Women in the Church
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Four of the ten chapters can be accessed by clicking their titles below:

The Ministry of Women in the New Testament

Women and Church Office

The Role of the Pastor

Retrospect and Prospect

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Chapter 7


Samuele Bacchiocchi, Ph. D., Andrews University

Are women any less capable than men of piety, zeal, learning, leadership, counseling, preaching or whatever it takes to serve as the pastor or elder of a congregation? If not, why should women not be appointed to serve as pastors or elders? These questions have elicited the deepest concerns of evangelical feminists. Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty ask: "Ordination is relevant to women who feel called to the official ministry, and many women in all branches of the church do feel this call of God upon their lives. Can the church continue to deny them the opportunity to respond to this call?"1

These are serious questions that demand our attention. The answers are largely determined by one’s understanding of the nature of the church and of the role of the pastor. If the church is viewed as being primarily a religious institution which provides religious services to society, then its leaders will be seen as administrators chosen on the basis of competence. This understanding of the nature of the church would demand that women be given equal access to the pastoral office in accordance with the equal employment opportunities that govern all service institutions.

On the other hand, if the church is a spiritual family of believers united to God and to one another by a common bond of faith, then the pastor is a spiritual father of the "household of God" (1 Tim 3:15; cf. 1 Cor 4:15) and the shepherd of the flock (1 Pet 5:2). This understanding of the church, as an extended family of believers, has important implications for the role of women within the church.

Objectives. This chapter aims at defining the New Testament understanding of the nature of the church and of the role of the pastor within it, in order to determine if women can legitimately fulfill such a role. For the sake of clarity this chapter is divided in two parts: the first examines the role of the pastor as representative of the congregation; the second considers his role as a representative of Christ. Special attention will be given in the second part of the chapter to the implications of the male imagery of God for the appointment of women as pastors/elders in the church.




1. Models of Pastoral Roles

The understanding of the nature of the pastor’s role within the church determines to a large extent one’s position on whether or not a woman should serve as pastor/elder of the congregation. Four main models of pastoral roles are generally held among Christians and each of them has quite different implications.

Sacramental Role. A first pastoral model may be called the sacramental role. According to this model, which is held by the Eastern Orthodox, the Roman Catholic and to a lesser degree the Anglican church, the pastor is seen primarily as a priest (sacerdos) whose central function in the worship service is to preside at the eucharistic (Lord's Supper) celebration. This view developed early in the history of Christianity as the Lord's Supper came to be understood as being essentially a sacramental reenactment of the atoning death of Christ. This development led to the view that the person presiding at the eucharistic sacrifice functioned as a priest, acting on behalf of not only the congregation, but of the very person of Christ.

This is the line of reasoning present in the Vatican II declaration, Inter Insignores, which argues that at the consecration of the eucharist the priest acts "in persona Christi, taking the role of Christ to the point of being his very image."2 Since the priest becomes the very image of Jesus Christ to the congregation, then it is only fitting that he should be a man and not a woman, for Jesus was a man and not a woman. According to these church traditions women cannot be ordained as priests because by their very nature they are incapable of receiving the "indelible character," that is, the permanent divine grace conferred through the sacrament of ordination.

This sacramental view of the priesthood founders on three counts. First, the New Testament makes it unequivocally clear that there is no longer a special class of priests as was in Old Testament times. Christ has fulfilled and done away with the Old Testament priesthood (Heb 5:4-6; 7:27; 9:24-28; 10:9-14). By His sacrificial death Christ has opened to all direct access to God's throne of grace (Rom 5:2; Eph 3:12; Heb 10:19-22). Baptized and believing Christians need no human mediator because they are all "a holy priesthood" capable of offering "spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (1 Pet 2:5).

Second, the Lord's Supper is never regarded in the New Testament as a sacrifice in itself or as a reenactment of Christ's atoning death. It is simply presented as a memorial of Christ’s sacrificial death (1 Cor 11:26). No special class of priests is needed to preside over its celebration. Lastly, if the priest represents the person of Christ and not His masculinity, then the resemblance between Christ and the priest need not be sexual but spiritual and consequently women could represent equally well the person of Christ to the congregation.

Functional Role. A second pastoral model may be called the functional role. In this model the pastor is seen primarily as an administrator of an institution known as the church. His appointment to the pastoral office is determined by his functional effectiveness and capacity for leadership. Churches that view themselves as religious institutions that provide religious and social services to the community, are naturally apt to ordain women as pastors. They see their pastor not as the "head" or "shepherd" of the congregation, but as an effective and functional administrator. Since women can manage businesses and institutions as effectively as can men, their appointment to the pastoral office is seen as a matter of necessity in order to bring the administration of the church in line with the equal employment opportunitites of secular institutions.

The problem with this functional model is that it reduces the church from a community of believers to a service institution and the pastor from a spiritual "head" and "shepherd" of the flock to an administrator or policy setter. Administrative competence can undoubtedly enhance the leadership role of a pastor, but, as we shall see, it is not the fundamental Biblical criterion for ordaining a person as pastor.

The church is meant to be not merely a functional organization but a community of believers, the family of God. Its pastors are not merely officials recruited without regard to sexual distinctions as in secular institutions. Instead, they are shepherds of the flock, appointed to represent Christ to the people and the people to Christ. The pastor, however, represents Christ not sacramentally but functionally, that is, not by becoming the "very image" of Christ to the congregation, but by representing the shepherding role of Christ, the chief Shepherd (1 Pet 5:4). This double representative role requires, as we shall see, that the person appointed to serve as pastor be a man with specific spiritual and moral qualities.

Charismatic Role. A third pastoral model may be called the charismatic role. In this model any person can be ordained as pastor if he or she demonstrates having received from God some specific charisma, that is, spiritual gift, such as prophecy, healing, faith, wisdom, tongues, or preaching. In many ways the charismatic pastoral role is a spiritual version of the functional pastoral role described above. The main difference between the two is that the competency required in the charismatic model is spiritual rather than practical. Pentecostal and Holiness churches that emphasize the charismatic role of the pastor have been ordaining women as pastors since the1890’s, obviously because for them the main prerequisite for ordination to the ministry is the possession of some charisma.

There is no question that ordination to the office of pastor/elder is not a right to be asked or fought for but a matter of divine grace (1 Tim 4:14). One of God’s gifts to the church is the charisma of spiritual leadership: "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers" (Eph 4:11; cf. 1 Cor 12:28-30). However, a person who has received a gift for spiritual leadership is not automatically a candidate for ordination to the ministry. Paul explains, for example, that a man aspiring to serve as an overseer/elder in the church "must be well thought of by outsiders" and by church members (1 Tim 3:6-7). This means that a man must prove himself before he can be considered by the church to serve as pastor/elder.

Moreover, the stated requirements for such an office are the evidence of moral integrity and exemplary leadership in the home (1 Tim 3:2-5; Titus 1:6-9). No reference is made to the presence of specific spiritual gifts. This does not mean that spiritual gifts are irrelevant, but rather that they are secondary to those qualities that would allow a man to exercise the same kind of leadership in the church that he exercises in the home.

The Scriptures nowhere indicate that the gifts of the spirit are "for men only." We have seen, for example, that both the Old and the New Testaments speak of women ministering as prophets (Judges 4:4; Acts 21:9; 1 Cor 11:5), a ministry which is mentioned by Paul before that of evangelists, pastors and teachers (Eph 4:11; 1 Cor 12:28-30). It is difficult, however, to imagine that the Holy Spirit would normally call a woman to serve as a pastor when, as we have seen in the previous chapter, the same Spirit inspired Paul to instruct the church not to allow women to serve as representative and authoritative leaders of the church (1 Tim 2:12; 1 Cor 14:34).

If, as we have seen repeatedly in the course of this study, God has established functional role differences for men and women to fulfill in the home and in the church, then it is inconceivable that the same God would normally call men or women to serve in roles which are contrary to His creational order.

Paul devotes several chapters of his letter to the Corinthian church—a church that resisted the idea of hierarchy—to explain that the church, like the human body, needs different functioning units, persons with different gifts, each of which is essential to the proper functioning of the body. In fact, Paul emphasizes that "the parts of the body which seem to be weaker are indispensable. . . . God has so composed the body, giving the greater honor to the inferior part, that there may be no discord in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another" (1 Cor 12:22, 24-25).

Representative Role. A fourth pastoral model may be called the representative role. This model differs significantly from those described above. In this model the pastor fulfills a dual representative function. On the one hand he functions as the representative head of his members, and on the other hand, he serves as Christ’s representative to his members. This role of a pastor in the "household of God" (1 Tim 3:15) is to a large extent similar to the role of a father in the home. Like a father he cares for his members personally, directing and correcting them as necessary. The primary requirement for this kind of pastoral leadership are those spiritual and natural qualities which lead the members to respect the pastor as their personal spiritual leader. Leadership skills and charisma are important but secondary requirements. What is essential are the qualities of moral and spiritual integrity which enable the pastor to serve as a worthy representative of God and of the members.

The early Christians, as we shall see, adopted the representative model of the pastor by appointing local elders to serve as the heads of their congregations. Women were not appointed as elders because this office involved oversight of the congregation, "the household of God" (1 Tim 3:15)—a role similar to that a father is called to fulfill in the home. To explore this reason more fully, consideration will now be given to the role of the pastor in the New Testament.

2. The Origin of Elders/Pastors

Origin of Elders. During His ministry on earth Jesus did not establish a structure of church organization. He called, trained, appointed and commissioned twelve men to witness for Him to all nations (Mark 3:14; 16:15-16; Acts 1:8). It was after the resurrection and ascension that Christ’s followers began to develop a form of church organization. The book of Acts gives indications of an emerging structure, built on the pattern of the synagogue. Initially, the church of Jerusalem must have been seen as one of the several hundred synagogues that existed in the city (see, e.g. Acts 6:9).

The minimum requirement for the existence of a synagogue was a group of ten men to constitute the board of elders.3 In most cases the elders of the synagogue were also the representative heads of their households. The twelve apostles appointed by Christ functioned as the original board of elders (Acts 1:20, Greek "episkope—oversight"). Peter and John designate themselves as elders (presbyteros —1 Pet 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1). The vacancy caused by the defection of Judas was filled by the election of Matthias: "His office ("oversight"--episkope) let another take" (Acts 1:20). The apostles, as the elders of the first congregation, supervised the worship and instruction of the members, exercised discipline and administered the distribution of alms.

The dispersion of the Jerusalem church, caused by "a great persecution" (Acts 8:1), resulted in the establishment of daughter churches in Palestine/Syria. The eldership model of the Jerusalem church was soon adopted by the new churches, as indicated by the fact that Paul and Barnabas appointed "elders" (presbyteroi) in every church they founded, committing them to the Lord (Acts 14:23). The language of Acts suggests that the elders (presbyteroi) could also be called overseers or bishops (episkopoi—Acts 20:17, 28). The same interchangeable use of the two terms occurs in Titus 1:5-7.

It appears that initially the term "elder" designated the status and the term "bishop/overseer" characterized the responsibility of the elders, namely, to supervise and shepherd the congregation (1 Pet 5:1-4).4 By the beginning of the second century, however, the term "bishop" came to be applied to the sole leader of the congregation (monarchical bishop) who took precedence over the presbyters and deacons. Initially, however, the terms "elders" and "bishops" were modest words, used to describe the representative and supervising function of what today we call the pastor. Other terms were presumably also used since other passages in the New Testament refer simply to "those who are over you in the Lord" (1 Thess 5:12) or "your leaders" (Heb 13:7).

The Use of the Term "Pastor." The term "pastors" (poimen) which means "shepherds," is used only once in the New Testament, namely, in the list of offices given in Ephesians 4:11: "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers." The absence of the article in Greek before "teachers," suggests that "pastor-teacher is a single office embodying a twofold function: that of shepherding or overseeing the flock, and of teaching."5

The limited use of the term "shepherd/pastor" indicates that it was not a well-established title for the leaders of the congregation who were better known as elders, overseers or simply as leaders. Such leaders, however, were clearly seen as "shepherds," as indicated by the metaphorical use of the verb poimainein "to shepherd the flock" to describe the work of the elders (1 Pet 5:2; Acts 20:28; John 21:16).6

What all of this means is that in the New Testament the local elders/leaders functioned as the pastors of the congregation. The term "pastor" may be seen as descriptive of the shepherding function of the elders. Thus, the New Testament role of the local "elder/overseer" corresponds essentially to the role of today's pastor. In view of this fact the present policy of the Seventh-day Adventist church to allow for the ordination of women as local elders but not as pastors is based on an artificial distinction between the two offices, a distinction which does not exist in the New Testament.

The only legitimate distinction that can be made in the New Testament is between the "local elders" and what could be called the "elders at large" such as the apostles, Timothy, and Titus. Both of them, however, then as now, functioned as "shepherds/pastors" of the congregations. This means that the prerequisites for the appointment of local elders and pastors are essentially the same because both fulfill the same representative shepherding function.

Plurality of Elders. Another important element, often ignored, is that in the New Testament each church had several elders. This is indicated by the fact that they are always referred to in the plural in relation to any particular church. Paul and Barnabas "appointed elders" in every church they founded in Asia (Acts 14:23). The elders of the Jerusalem church are always referred to in the plural (Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 5, 22, 23; 16:4; 21:18). Paul called the "elders" of the church at Ephesus to come to him (Acts 20:17). Titus is to "appoint elders in every town" (Titus 1:5). The sick person is to "call for the elders of the church" (James 5:14). As in the Jewish synagogue so in Christian churches one of the elders was apparently appointed to serve as a presiding elder. James served in such a role in the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13-21), Timothy in the church of Ephesus (1 Tim 1:3) and Titus in Crete (Titus 1:5).

The specific number of elders appointed in every church is never mentioned. We can presume that the number was determined by the size of the congregation and the number of men who were suitably qualified (see 1 Tim 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). The qualifications suggest, as we shall see, that the elders were mostly fathers who had proven their moral integrity and spiritual leadership in their own household. This indicates that the church was seen as an extended family where some of the qualified heads of households were appointed to serve as heads of the larger family of believers, "the household of God" (1 Tim 3:15).

Extended Family. A major factor which contributed to viewing the church as an extended family is the fact that by accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior, believers "receive adoption as sons" (Gal 4:5). As adopted children they can call God "Abba! Father!" (Gal 4:6) and relate to one another as "brother and sister" (James 2:14-15; 1 Cor 8:11; 1 Thess 4:6; Rom 12:1). Within this spiritual family Christ Himself is called "the first-born among many brethren" (Rom 8:29).

The pastor/elder functions as a spiritual father within the church family because of his role in bringing new converts into the church and nurturing them subsequently. For example, Paul refers to the Corinthian believers as his children and to himself as their father: "I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. . . . For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel" (1 Cor 4:14, 16; cf. Eph 5:1; Gal 3:26). Furthermore, church members are referred to as "beloved children" (Eph 5:1), "sons and daughters" (2 Cor 6:18), "brethren" (1 Cor 1:10, 11, 26; 2:1), "sisters" (Rom 16:1; 1 Cor 7:15), all terms indicative of a family relationship.

This understanding of the church as an extended family of believers, led by elders who functioned as spiritual fathers and shepherds explains why women were not appointed as elders/pastors, namely because their role was seen as being that of mothers and not fathers. This point will be further clarified below.

3. Functions and Qualifications of Elders

Shepherding the Flock. The main function of the elders was that of shepherding the flock. The flock is to be directed and protected so that it may be nourished and grow. Paul charged the elders of Ephesus to remember their important shepherding calling: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son" (Acts 20:28).

The task of shepherding the flock included guiding and directing the congregation ordering its worship services, correcting abuses, refuting errors, and regulating the relationship of its members. Preaching and teaching were also among the main functions of the elders (Titus 1:9; 1 Tim 3:2). This is indicated by Paul’s instruction: "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching" (1 Tim 5:17). The manner in which this pastoral responsibility was to be exercised is described in 1 Peter 5:1-4:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory.

Respect for the Elders. In view of the important role the elders fulfilled as representative fathers and shepherds of the flock, members are admonished to respect and obey them. Peter, for example, immediately after describing how elders should exercise their leadership, goes on to indicate the respect elders should receive: "Likewise you that are younger be subject to the elders" (1 Pet 5:5). Similarly Paul urges the Thessalonians "to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work" (1 Thess 5:12-13).

A similar admonition is given in the book of Hebrews: "Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account" (Heb 13:17). Here submission is enjoined to the leaders of the church (elders/pastors) because of the solemn responsibility entrusted to them to be accountable for the spiritual welfare of the congregation.

Qualifications of Elders. The qualifications of elders/pastors are directly related to the functions they are called to fulfill within the church. A list of the main qualifications is given by Paul in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

The saying is sure: If anyone aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task. Now a bishop must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, sensible, dignified, hospitable, an apt teacher, no drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and no lover of money. He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil; moreover he must be well thought of by outsiders, or he may fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

This and similar descriptions (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet 5:1-3; Acts 20:28-30) indicate that any potential elder/overseer/pastor of the church must have moral integrity, ability in management, knowledge of the Word of God, aptitude to teach and a genuine pastoral concern. Particular emphasis is placed upon the Christian character of the elder, exemplified by his temperate life-style, loyalty to his wife, and leadership in the home. Possession of these qualifications must be recognizable before a man can be appointed as leader of the congregation.

4. The Appointment of Elders

Restricted to Men. Four main lines of evidence indicate that in the New Testament the appointment of elders was restricted to men:

(1) Male Elders. The initial group of elders, as we have noted, were the apostles themselves, who were all men. When the Gospel proclamation reached beyond Jerusalem, the same pattern was followed to appoint male elders in each congregation. The reason is that Christian elders, as in the Jewish synagogue, were seen as the spiritual fathers of an extended family. Jerome D. Quinn observes:

The extended family of the ancient world is presumed and proposed as the model and parable of a church that is bound in faith and loyalty to the living Father who has bestowed life on those who are now his sons and daughters. In that family some of the sons are presbyter-bishops and so "householders" (oikonomoi, cf. Titus 1:7), men who visibly represent and answer to the Father. The tried virtues of Christian family life are the criteria proposed for choosing these men to share in Pauline ministry (Titus 1:6). A father who has not presided well over his own household ought not to preside over a church (1 Tim 3:4-5).7

(2) Specification of "Man." In the descriptions of qualifications of an elder in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-7, specific reference is made to "man--aner" as distinct from "woman." The importance of this fact is brought out by B. W. Powers:

An elder is to be a "one-woman man," that is, a person who is loyal to a wife and does not become involved with other women; but the point is also made that he is to be a man. This is further reinforced by the fact that an elder is required to be able to manage his own household well as a qualification for the role of ruling as an elder. This could never be said of a woman.8

(3) Structure of Passage. This conclusion is further supported by the structure of the passage in 1 Timothy where the qualifications for the office of elder (3:1-7) are given immediately after the prohibition of women teaching as leaders in the church (2:11-15). The collocation of this prohibition immediately before the qualifications for eldership, suggests that the two are closely related. Having explained why women should not serve as teaching-leaders of the congregation, Paul then proceeds immediately to spell out what kind of men are suitable for such an office. The connection between the two has been recognized by some scholars.9

(4) Authority Role. The discussion of the role of women in the New Testament indicates that they could not have exercised the role of elders/pastors, because the two roles were viewed as mutually exclusive. A woman, as we have seen in chapter 6, was not to teach as the leader in the church or to exercise authority over men (1 Tim 2:12; 1 Cor 14:34), whereas the function of the elder was to exercise fatherly authority within the congregation (1 Tim 5:17; 3:4-5) over both men and women.

Appointment of Elders. The process followed by the apostolic church to elect and ordain their church leaders is not clearly explained in the New Testament. Three major factors seem to have contributed to their election: qualifications, calling, and recognition by the church and/or church leaders. In addition to the qualifications for the office of elder discussed above, there was required a recognition on the part of the church that the person aspiring to serve as elder had been called by God. The church recognized that the Holy Spirit had called Barnabas and Saul for their particular work (Acts 13:2). Paul seems to refer to the recognition by the church of Timothy’s calling when he speaks of "the prophetic utterances which pointed to you" (1 Tim 1:18). It is also reasonable to assume that the person aspiring to the office of overseer (1 Tim 3:1) could testify that he believed himself to be called of God to serve in such a role.

The qualifications and the calling were to be recognized presumably both by the congregation (Acts 13:3; 1 Tim 3:7; 5:22) and by church leaders (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim 5:22; Titus 1:5). This recognition resulted in a special appointment to the office of elder through the rite of laying on of hands. The performance of this rite is suggested by Paul’s admonition to Timothy not to neglect the gift which he had received "when the council of elders laid their hands upon [him]" (1 Tim 4:14; cf. 2 Tim 1:6). An additional indication is provided by Paul’s advice to Timothy: "Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands" (1 Tim 5:22). Since his advice is given in the context of the treatment of elders (vv. 17-19), it undoubtedly refers to their official appointment to the office of elder.

In the light of the foregoing considerations we may say that in the New Testament, the act of laying on of hands, which became known as the rite of ordination, represents the church’s recognition of qualifications and divine calling of the man being officially appointed to serve as shepherd and father of the spiritual family of believers (1 Pet 5:2-4; Acts 20:28). The notion of ordination as a sacramental act which conveys the "indelible character" of the priesthood is foreign to the New Testament. Instead, the essential function of the ceremony is to invest a person, who had proven his moral and spiritual worthiness, with the right to serve officially as a representative spiritual father and shepherd of the congregation, "the household of God" (1 Tim 3:15).

5. The Appointment of Women as Elders/Pastors?

Women as Spiritual Fathers? Can a woman be officially appointed by the church through the laying on of hands to serve as a representative spiritual father and shepherd of the congregation? The answer of the New Testament is NO. The reason is not because women are any less capable than men of piety, zeal, learning, leadership, preaching or whatever it takes to serve as pastor, but simply because such a role is perceived in the New Testament as being that of a spiritual father and not of a spiritual mother. In Chapters 5 and 6 we have shown that the New Testament emphasizes the importance of respecting the functional role distinctions of men and women established by God at creation. These role distinctions, we have noted, do not imply superiority or inferiority, but rather reflect a divine design and concern for well-ordered and harmonious relations within the home and the church.

Men and women were created not superior and inferior, but rather different from and complementary to one another. What God made woman to be and what He intends her to do, makes her different from but not inferior to man. This difference is reflected in the different roles men and women are called to fulfill in life. The woman is to be wife and mother while the man is to be husband and father. As father, man is called to be a caring head and guardian of the home, a divinely established role in the natural family which must be reflected in the church, because the church is, as we have shown, the extended family of God. This means that to appoint a woman to serve as elder/pastor would be analogous to assigning her the role of fatherhood in the family.

The Larger Question. The question of women’s ordination must be seen as part of the larger question of the distinctive and different roles men and women are called to fulfill in the home and in the church. David Scaer emphasizes the need to consider the wider scope of the problem:

The problem of women pastors cannot be handled in isolation, but must be viewed in conjunction with the other sexual misunderstandings of which it is both a part and a result. Only citing the simple prohibition against the women pastors, without viewing the wider horizon of which the prohibition is a part, leaves unsolved the real and basic problem of understanding the divinely established relationship of male and female.10

The elder/pastor serves as the shepherd of the flock, the father of the extended family of believers, which is the church. Such a representative role implies a spiritual authority which by divine appointment belongs to man and not to woman. Essentially this is the theological reason given by Paul in those crucial passages (1 Tim 2:11-15; 1 Cor 11:3-15; 14:33-36) where he explains why women are not to serve as representative leaders of the church, namely, because they "should be subordinate" (1 Cor 14:34).

We have shown in Chapter 5 that the Pauline (Biblical) understanding of subordination is not demeaning but elevating. It signifies not servile dependence, but willing and loving response to the caring leadership of a husband (Eph 5:26-29). It is patterned after the subordination of the church to Christ. Some reject the analogy between the Christ-church model and the husband-wife model because, to quote Rosemary Reuther, it is a "hierarchical, dominance-submission model of marriage."11 What she fails to realize is that in the Christ-church model, the husband too is called to be subordinate, first to Christ and then to his wife by loving and caring for her sacrificially. The Biblical (Christological) model calls for a male-female partnership under the Lordship of Christ and the loving, sacrificial leadership of man.

The Danger of the Partnership Paradigm. The Biblical model of different and yet complementary roles of men and women in the home and in the church may well be a scandal to liberal and evangelical feminists bent on promoting the egalitarian, partnership paradigm. Nonetheless, Christians committed to the authority and wisdom of the Scriptures, cannot ignore or reject a most fundamental Biblical principle. To encourage the blurring or elimination of role distinctions God assigned to men and women in the home and in the church means not only to act contrary to His creational design, but also to accelerate the breakdown of the family and church structure.

Donald G. Bloesch, a well-known evangelical theologian inclined toward the ordination of women, acknowledges: "It cannot be denied that the women’s liberation movement, for all its solid gains, has done much to blur the distinctions between the sexes and that many women who have entered the ministry appear committed to the eradication of these distinctions."12 This trend, as Bloesch observes, "is in no small way responsible for accelerating divorce and the breakdown of the family."13 Feminist ideologies are generally opposed to the sanctity of the family and to the worthiness of the call to motherhood. The reason is because such ideologies, as Michael Novak keenly observes, "thrive best where individuals stand innocent of the concrete demands of loyalty, responsibility, and common sense into which family life densely thrusts them."14

To realize freedom from the constraints of motherhood, many evangelical feminists, like their liberal counterparts, denigrate the role of woman as homemaker and advocate abortion on demand. Donald Bloesch warns that "The fact that some clergywomen today in the mainline Protestant denominations are championing the cause of lesbianism (and a few are even practicing a lesbian life-style) should give the church pause in its rush to promote women’s liberation [and ordination]."15

An indication of the promotion of lesbianism as a legitimate "Christian life-style" is provided by the consultation on lesbian theology at the 1986 joint annual meeting of the prestigious American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature, held in Atlanta, November 22-25. Several papers were presented designed to articulate a theological rationale for the legitimacy of a lesbian life-style. In view of this alarming trend, today more than ever before, Christians are called to uphold the sexual role distinctions divinely ordained for men and women to fulfill in the home and in the church. The preservation of such distinctions provides a most needed bastion of common sense and an inoculation against all sort of nonsense ideologies which are intent on perverting and destroying God's design for the harmonious relations of men and women in the home and in the church.

6. Practical Considerations

The first and fundamental reason for restricting the role of elder/pastor to men is theological and not biological or cultural. Our preceding discussion has shown that, from a Biblical perspective a woman cannot assume the representative role of spiritual father/shepherd of a congregation because that is a male and not a female role. The Scriptures give no right to blur or eliminate male and female role distinctions in either the home or the church. In addition, we believe that practical considerations support the Biblical instructions. These we shall now consider, though briefly, because they constitute secondary reasons. For a fuller treatment of these the reader is referred to Rosalie Haffner Lee’s essay "Is Ordination Necessary for Women’s Ministry?," published in this book as Chapter 9.

Marriage and Pastoral Vows. Many of the women who seek ordination are married or planning to marry a man in another profession. This situation may invite tension in the church and discord in the home. In the home a woman pastor may find it difficult, if not impossible, to honor her marriage vows to serve her husband as wife and mother while the church demands so much of her time and attention. In the church, members may question the quality of pastoral care they receive from a female pastor who first must honor her commitment to nurture her own family.

In her book Women and Church Leadership, Margaret Howe, a supporter of women’s ordination, shares some of the responses she received from a questionnaire she sent out to a number of woman pastors. One of the respondents, who was contemplating marriage, wrote: "I wonder how I can marry and maintain my current 60-64-hour week at my career."16 Another wrote: "We are ready to start our family, and I have had some anxieties about the congregation’s reactions. It’s really none of their business, but that’s easier to say than feel."17 Still another, "There seem to be more crucifixion than resurrection experiences. I don’t know if I can sustain this."18

Being a wife, mother and pastor at the same time raises many questions. How can she handle pregnancy and subsequent child care over an extended period of time? Should the church look for a substitute pastor while its female pastor is homebound? What model of parenthood does a woman project when she leaves her children in a day-care center in order to minister to her members? Should not her first obligation be to minister to her immediate family members? What if her husband is transferred to work in another part of the country? Should she let her husband go on his own? Would not this be a violation of her marriage vows to remain with him as long as both shall live?

Role Reversals. Another important consideration is the negative impact of the headship role of a female pastor both in her own family and on the families of the congregations. As Bishop Kirk points out, if the headship of the man in the congregation is rejected, his headship in the family will be gravely imperilled.19 The headship of a husband in his own family can hardly remain unaffected if his own wife serves as the head of the congregation to which he belongs. What impact will this role reversal have also on the families of the congregations? Will not this tempt at least some of the congregation to arrogate to themselves a position of headship in the family similar to the headship over her husband exercised in the church by their female pastor?

Even more crucial is the impact of the role modeling of a female pastor especially upon the children of divided families who have either no father or a non-Christian father. To these children the pastor becomes a father figure and sometimes the only positive male role model in their lives. A female pastor would deprive these children of an appropriate father role model.

Single Woman Pastor. The problem of role modeling for a woman pastor becomes even more critical when she is young and single. Male elders who are her seniors will have great difficulty to accept a single young lady in her twenties as their spiritual father and shepherd of the congregation. A male elder of a small Seventh-day Adventist church of about ninety members, where a young lady just out of seminary had been ordained as local elder, told me: "Our church has become a women’s club. The few male members of our church now seldom attend because with a female elder preaching most of the time, they feel out of place in church."

Women also may have difficulty accepting a young female pastor as their spiritual shepherd. Two of the respondents to the questionnaire Margaret Howe sent out to female pastors offer an example: "One respondent reported that a woman in her congregation ‘said that it made her physically ill to see and hear a woman in the pulpit’! Another commented, ‘I also work with youth, and I find that many of the mothers wanted a ‘good-looking male’ minister for their kids."20 Howe continues citing examples of members who could not bring themselves to give to their female pastor her correct title.

It must be most painful for a young female pastor to feel unaccepted as pastor by some of the members of the congregation she is endeavoring to minister to. If she lacks the support of a family, she may find it hard, if not impossible, to bear such a heavy burden in addition to her loneliness and vulnerability as a young female. This explains the reason for the Biblical instruction that an elder must be a mature man who manages well his own household (1 Tim 3:4).

Ministry of Women Today. The intent of the foregoing considerations is not to restrict women or to deny them opportunities to minister within the church, but rather to encourage respect for the different but complementary roles God has called men and women to fulfill in the home and in the church. God has given to women unique and invaluable gifts and ministries which are essential to the healthy growth of both the private family and the church family. The church that restricts the role of women to cleaning and cooking greatly impoverishes its own spiritual life by depriving itself of the warmth and love that only women can give.

The question ought not to be: Is it legitimate to ordain women to the ministry?, but rather: To which ministry is it legitimate to appoint women? In the concluding chapter I shall point out that there is an urgent need to open up new forms of ministry to professionally trained women who are willing to serve not only in the traditional roles of Bible Instructors, choir directors, children’s Sabbath School teachers, and deaconesses, but also in new roles such as health educators, pastoral counselors, instructors of new converts, and directors of family services. Such ministries are urgently needed in view of the growing number of broken homes, single parents, alienated and abused children, elderly members and drug-addicted young people.

The recognition of the Biblical validity and necessity of the ministry of women must not obscure the equally important Biblical truth of the role distinctions of men and women in the home and in the church. Such distinctions call for men to serve as heads of the family and for some of them to serve as representive heads of the extended family, the church.

The church must be structured in a way that supports the structure of the family and the family must be structured in a way that supports the pattern of church order. To appoint a woman to serve as the representative spiritual father and shepherd of a congregation would be analogous to assigning her the role of fatherhood in a family. Both instances represent a violation of God’s design for the well-functioning of our homes and churches.



1. The Symbolic Role of the Pastor

Christ’s Representative. The pastor serves not only as repre- sentative of the congregation, but also as Christ’s representative to the congregation. In the Old Testament the priests functioned as the typological representatives of the redemptive ministry of Christ. The book of Hebrews explains at great length the typological correspondence between the ministry of the priests in the earthly sanctuary and that of Christ in the heavenly sanctuary (Heb 8, 9, 10). By offering His own blood once, for ever and for all, Christ fulfilled and terminated the typological sacrificial ministry of Old Testament priests which pointed to His redemptive ministry (Heb 9:11-14; 10:1-14). Yet there is still a ministry of intercession and reconciliation which Christ, the heavenly High Priest, continues to perform on behalf of believers (Heb 7:25). The pastor, in a similar and yet different way from the Old Testament priests, serves as Christ's representative to the church.

The Protestant understanding of the representative role of the pastor differs from the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox view. According to the latter, the priest does not merely represent, but actually "presents the priesthood of Jesus Christ to the rest of the community"21 by reenacting through the eucharistic celebration the very sacrifice offered by Christ on the Cross. According to the Protestant tradition, however, the pastor does not present the priesthood and the sacrifice of Christ to the congregation, but rather represents Christ by serving symbolically as Christ’s ambassador and shepherd to the congregation.

We have shown earlier that the sacramental view of the priest is devoid of Biblical support. The role of the leader of the congregation (elder/overseer/pastor) is seen in the New Testament as being not a personification of Christ’s priesthood and sacrifice, but a representation of Christ, the true Father, Shepherd, and Head of the church.

Indications of Representative Role. The representative role of the pastor is suggested, first of all, by Christ’s calling, training, and commissioning of the twelve apostles to be His "witnesses" (Acts 1:8; Matt 28:18-20; Mark 3:14). As Christ is "the apostle and high priest of our confession" (Heb 3:1), that is, the one sent to represent the Father, so pastors are sent (apostello) to represent the Father and the Son to believers and unbelievers: "As thou didst send me into the world, so I have sent them into the world" (John 17:18).

Paul underscores the representative commission given to church leaders when he writes: "And he [God] has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God" (2 Cor 5:19-20, NIV). There is no question in Paul’s mind that he was Christ’s ambassador to believers and unbelievers. To the Galatians he wrote: "You welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself" (Gal 4:14).

Representative Shepherd. While every believer is Christ’s ambassador and belongs to the "royal priesthood" (1 Pet 2:9; Ex 19:6; Deut 26:19), the pastor fulfills in a special sense the role of Christ’s representative, as the under-shepherd of Christ’s flock. Christ describes Himself as "the good shepherd" and His mission as gathering the sheep that are not of His fold, so that "there shall be one flock, one shepherd" (John 10:11, 14-16). To accomplish this mission, Christ commissioned Peter (and in a sense all those who function in the same role as church leaders) to feed the lambs and the sheep (John 21:15-17).

Christ’s commission to His disciples to be the under-shepherds of His flock represents the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies regarding the future appointment of faithful shepherds: "I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, says the Lord" (Jer 23:4). "And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding" (Jer 3:15; cf. Ezek 34:1-31).

The promise of true shepherds who would come to faithfully tend God's flock (not as hirelings—John 10:13) is fulfilled through the ministry of the apostles, elders, and overseers who serve as shepherds of Christ's flock (Acts 20:17, 28). Peter clearly describes the function of elders as shepherds of God's flock, representing the chief Shepherd:

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ as well as a partaker in the glory that is to be revealed. Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is manifested you will obtain the unfading crown of glory (1 Pet 5:1-4).

Heavenly Worship. In the worship service the pastor acts as representative not only of the congregation but also of Christ. As believers we hear the word, we are baptized and participate in the Lord's Supper, not

in an abstract, impersonal way, but rather in a personal way as the pastor ministers to us in Christ’s name. The vision of the heavenly worship in Revelation 4 and 5 reflects the inner reality of the worship of the church. In that vision the central position is occupied by the Father and the Lamb who are surrounded by twenty-four elders, representing the twelve patriarchs of ancient Israel and the twelve apostles of the new Israel. This imagery implies that the pastor, as the leader of the worshiping community on earth, fulfills a representative role similar to that of the twenty-four elders in the heavenly worship.

The unique symbolic role a pastor is called to fulfill as representative of the heavenly Father, Shepherd, High Priest, and Head of the church cannot legitimately be fulfilled by a woman pastor, because her Scriptural role is not that of a father, shepherd, priest or head of the church. We have seen that these functional roles are associated in the Scriptures with the distinctive roles God has assigned men to fulfill. To appoint women to serve as elders/pastors means not only to violate a divine design, but also to adulterate the pastor's symbolic representation of God.

Danger of Changing Symbols. C. S. Lewis rightly warns that "We have no authority to take the living and seminal figures which God has painted on the canvas of our nature and shift them about as if they were mere geometrical figures."22 The sexual role distinctions, Lewis notes, go beyond physical appearance. They serve "to symbolize the hidden things of God."23 Lewis warns that when we are in the church, "we are dealing with male and female not merely as facts of nature but as the live and awful shadows of realities utterly beyond our control and largely beyond our direct knowledge"24

What this means is that the male role of father in the home and of the pastor as spiritual father in the household of faith (1 Cor 4:15) points to a much greater reality, "largely beyond our direct knowledge," namely, to that of the heavenly Father, the original and ultimate "Father" of the home, the church, and the human family. Paul clearly expresses this connection in Ephesians 3:14-15: "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom all fatherhood (patria) in heaven and on earth derives its name" (NIV, margin). The text suggests that all earthly fathers, whether biological fathers in the home or spiritual fathers in the church, reflect the image of the heavenly "Father," albeit in a human, creaturely way.

It is in no way derogatory to the female sex to affirm that an elder/pastor exercises fatherhood and not motherhood for God's family, because as E. L. Mascall observes, "his office is a participation in God's own relationship to his people and God is our Father in heaven and not our Mother."25 The female sex has its own distinctive dignity and function, but it can hardly represent the Fatherhood of God to His people, a theme which is dominant in both the Old and the New Testaments. The reason is quite simple. The sexual and symbolic role of a woman is that of mother and not of father. To change the nature of the symbol means to distort the apprehension of the reality to which the symbol points. To put it simply, a woman who stands for motherhood cannot appropriately represent the Fatherhood of God in the home or in the extended family of faith, the church. To appreciate this point more fully, we need to consider the implications of the male imagery of God for the symbolic role of the pastor.

2. Male Imagery of the Godhead

Male Imagery. It is an accepted fact that God has revealed Himself in the Scriptures and through Jesus Christ predominantly in male terms and imagery. Obviously God transcends human sexual distinctions, yet He has chosen to reveal Himself predominantly and unmistakably through male terms and imagery.

God has revealed Himself as Father and not as Mother. He sent His Son and not His Daughter. Jesus spoke of the Fatherhood and not of the Motherhood of God. He appointed twelve men and not twelve women to act as His representatives. We pray "Our Father" and not "Our Mother" who art in heaven. Christ is the new Adam and not the new Eve. He is the Bridegroom and not the Bride of the Church.

To these can be added other Biblical expressions which depict Christ as Lord (Acts 2:36; Phil 2:11), Head (Eph 5:23), King (Luke 19:38), Lamb (Rev 5:12), Judge (Rev 19:11), Servant (Luke 22:27), all of which are unmistakably masculine. The reason why God has chosen this predominantly male imagery to reveal Himself is presumably because, as discussed earlier, the male role within the family and the church best represents the role that God Himself sustains toward us. We found a fitting example in Ephesians 3:14-15 where Paul indicates that all forms of human fatherhood derive from and reflect the Fatherhood of God.

Resymbolizations of Godhead. Both liberal and evangelical feminists have long recognized the enormous significance of the correlation between the male imagery of the Godhead and the male role of the pastor/elder in the church, the latter being a reflection of the former. To them this correlation rightly constitutes a formidable stumbling block to the ordination of women. Consequently, with unshaken determination they are clamoring for a resymbolization of the Godhead, based on impersonal or feminine categories. This is seen as the first indispensable step to clear the path for a female priesthood.

To bring about a resymbolization of the Godhead, feminist theologians are employing several methods. Some are proposing dropping the personal terms for God, adopting instead nonpersonal or suprapersonal ones, such as "Fire, Light, Almighty, Divine Providence, Heavenly Parent, Cosmic Benefactor, Source of Sustenance." Others advocate using terms denoting actions, such as "Savior, Creator, Comforter." Others recommend addressing God as "Mother" or "Father-Mother," and Christ as "Daughter" or "Son-Daughter."26

A growing number of feminists are urging that Christ be no longer thought of as "Son of the Father," but rather as "Child of God."27 Moreover, as noted by Donald Bloesch, "They object to calling Christ ‘Lord’ and ‘Master,’ since these terms reflect a patriarchal vision. They offer instead the alternatives ‘Companion’ and ‘Friend,’ which denote a relationship of mutual fellowship and equality rather than superordination and subordination."28

Depersonalization of God. The results of the resymbolizations of God are, unintentionally perhaps, leading in two directions. On the one hand, God is reduced to an impersonal abstraction, light-years removed in transcendence. On the other hand, God is made into an androgynous Being with male-female characteristics: God/Goddess, Creator/Creatrix, Father/Mother. The latter augurs a return to fertility worship. The ultimate results of such efforts is not merely switching labels on the same product, but rather introducing new labels for an entirely different product.

Feminists who advocate changing the personal names of God from Father, King, and Lord, to impersonal abstractions as "Womb of Being," "Immanent Mother," "Life Force," "Divine Generatrix," or "Ground of Being," are ending up with a God who is a far cry from the Biblical, personal God. To characterize God with nonpersonal, abstract terms means not only to deny the personal aspect of the three members of the Trinity, but also to destroy the basis for a meaningful, personal relationship between God and human beings. Martin Buber points out that

The great achievement of Israel is not to have taught the one true God, who is the only God, the source and end of all that is; it is to have shown that it was possible in reality to speak to Him, to say, "Thou" to Him, to stand upright before His face. . . . It was Israel who first understood and—much more—lived life as a dialogue between man and God.29

Ultimately, the tendency of feminist theologians to reduce God to impersonal abstractions leads to a depersonalized image of God to whom it is impossible to pray personally. As Deborah Belonic states it, "To exchange a personal God for imagery of qualities of God leads to inadequate conceptions of God and depersonalization of both God and humanity."30 In a discouraging report of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus which met in Saratoga Springs, New York (June 1980), Deborah Barackman complains about

the cavalier way the revealed names of God were treated in the desire to eliminate gender-specific language. There seemed little awareness that excision of titles such as "Father," "Son," and "King" does violence to his personal, Trinitarian, authoritative, and majestic nature. Though God "is spirit and not a man," to shift gender titles also confuses the relationships in such overarching scriptural metaphors as Israel as God's wife.31

Feminization of God. Equally dangerous is the effort of some feminist theologians to make God into a female deity or to exalt Mary to a creative and redemptive role. Elizabeth Stanton, an early feminist (1895), argues that "the first step in the elevation of woman to her true position is . . . the recognition by the rising generation of an ideal Heavenly Mother, to whom their prayers should be addressed, as well as to a Father."32 To achieve this objective Durwood Foster believe that Christians can receive much help from Eastern thought, specifically "from the mood and intuition of Sri Aurobindo Ghose in his meditation on God as the Mother." He continues saying, "It is still an open question as to whether the figure of Mary may not have a more exalted role in the Christian vision—not only as co-redemptrix but also as co-creatrix."33

This unbiblical and heretical exaltation of Mary as co-redeemer and co-creator is developed more fully by Mary Daly in her book Beyond God the Father. She views Mary’s virginity as the symbol of woman’s completeness and autonomy from man and favors Mary over Jesus as the redemptive symbol for women.34 The desire to promote the sexual equality of women and their ordination to the priesthood leads Mary Daly to deny the deity of Christ and to offer a female counterpart in the person of Mary, both of which are heresy. Susan Foh correctly observes that authors such as Mary Daly (Stanton, Foster, Reuther, Soelle) "began with the presupposition that the Bible is an important but not the final authority and that women must be made equal to men in every respect, no matter what."35

An Androgynous God? Equally alarming is the effort to make God into an androgynous Being, consisting of a male and a female counterpart or half male and half female (Father-Mother). This view is totally foreign to the revelation that God has given of Himself in Scripture. Elaine Pagel correctly points out that

Unlike many of his contemporaries among the deities of the ancient Near East, the God of Israel shares his power with no female divinity, nor is he the divine Husband or Lover of any. He scarcely can be characterized in any but masculine epithets: King, Lord, Master, Judge, and Father.36

Biblical faith envisions God not as the Mother Goddess of mythological religion or the Earth Mother of animistic cults but as the Sovereign Lord and Almighty Father who admits of no female counterpart. "The Judeo-Christian tradition," writes James R. Edwards, "knows nothing of an androgynous Godhead; that is, God does not need a female counterpart to complete his identity. When a female counterpart is present, fertility worship, or neo-Baalism, lurks beneath"37

3. God as Father and Son

God the Father. In Scripture God is presented not only in male imagery, but also female. In a few Biblical passages, for example, God is pictured in maternal terms.38 Perhaps the most moving passage of all is found in Isaiah 49:15: "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you" (cf. Matt 23:37). The fact that in Scripture "God is like a father who pities his children (Ps 103:13) and a mother who cannot forget her sucking child (Is 49:15)"39 has led some to conclude that God can be appropriately addressed as Father and/or Mother.40

Paul Jewett is right in emphasizing that both paternal and maternal references to God are analogical in character, but is wrong in concluding that "both analogies are equally revelatory" of the inner being of God.41 There is a difference between God’s saying, "I am a father to Israel" (Jer 31:9) or Christ's saying, "call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven" (Matt 23:9) and God’s saying, "I will cry out like a woman in travail" (Is 42:14) or "Can a woman forget her sucking child? . . . yet I will not forget you" (Is 49:15). The first set of statements describes the person of God (God is our Father) while the second set of statements makes a comparison based on an action of God (God is like a crying or compassionate woman). The former identifies the person of God, the latter compares an action of God to an action performed by mothers.

God is the Father. The term "Father" is used in Scripture not only in a "figurative" sense to describe what God is like, but also in a "literal" sense to describe what God really is. As Hendrikus Berkhof points out, "God is not ‘as it were’ a Father; he is the Father from whom all fatherhood on earth is derived."42 Similarly Karl Barth observes:

No human father, but God alone, is properly, truly and primarily Father. No human father is the creator of his child, the controller of its destiny, or its savior from sin, guilt and death. No human father is by his word the source of its temporal and eternal life. In this proper, true and primary sense God—and He alone—is Father.43

The self-revelation of God as Father stands out especially in the teaching of Jesus. Joachim Jeremias, in his massive study of the Aramaic "Abba" ("Father") used consistently by Christ, shows that in the extensive Jewish literature there is no evidence of the term "Father" being used by itself by an individual to address God.44 In startling contrast to the prevailing custom of avoiding whenever possible the name of God out of reverence, Jesus not only called God "Father" but "Abba" (Mark 14:36), an Aramaic diminutive equivalent to our "daddy." Such a familiarity with the Almighty and Holy One was sacrilegious for the Jews. "Jesus, however, not only addressed God with the warmth and security of a child addressing its father, but he taught his disciples to do the same (Gal 4:6)."45

Implications of God's Fatherhood. Why has God revealed Himself, especially through Jesus Christ, as our Father and not as our Mother? Some feminist theologians believe that the answer is to be found in the patriarchal culture of the time where the father was the head and ruler of the household. God, they say, adopted this culturally accepted analogy to reveal Himself. Since we no longer subscribe to such a patriarchal social structure and world-view, they claim that the analogy of God as "Mother" would be equally appropriate today.

This reasoning is not correct because although God has used the patriarchal imagery of a Father to reveal Himself, He transcends this imagery radically. As Karl Barth aptly puts it, "when Scripture calls God our Father, it adopts an analogy only to transcend it at once."46 Jesus’ revelation of God as "Abba" was not only counter-cultural, but also determinative for His self-understanding as the Son of God and for the self-understanding of His followers as sons and daughters of God.

God has used the language of fatherhood to reveal Himself because such language contains an abiding truth about Himself which cannot lightly be dismissed. Fatherhood preserves the Biblical principle of headship and subordination. As our Father, God is the Creator and Controller of our lives and we are His subordinate children (James 1:17-18). If God were our Mother we would think of Her not as our Creator but as our Generatrix, that is, not as the one who created us out of nothing (ex nihilo), but as the one who generated us out of Herself. This shows, as Kallistos Ware states it, that "if we were to substitute a Mother Goddess for God the Father, we would not simply be altering a piece of incidental imagery, but we would be replacing Christianity with a new kind of religion."47

It is important to remember that the symbol of the Fatherhood of God was not created by the prophets or apostles out of their patriarchal culture, but was revealed and given to us by God Himself. "God as Father is God's own witness to himself, not a mere human witness to God."48

Headship Role. To appreciate the implication of the Fatherhood of God, it is important to note the difference between fatherhood and motherhood. In Scripture both are similar in terms of compassion for his/her child (Is 49:15; Ps 103:13). The only difference is to be seen, as Susan Foh points out, in "their relationship to one another. The father is the head of the household; consequently, his wife must submit herself to him and reverence him (Eph 5:22-24, 33). It is the husband's headship and the wife's submission that makes it necessary to address God as Father, not Mother."49

The same principle applies, as we have shown, to the headship role that a pastor/elder fulfills in the extended family of God, the church. If one erases the Biblical distinction between the roles men and women are called to fulfill in the home and in the church, as many feminist theologians are seeking to do, then there is no longer any reason for maintaining the Fatherhood of God.

Feminists have well understood the connection between the Fatherhood of God and the male headship role in the home and in the church. Consequently, it is not surprising that some of them are endeavoring to remove the Fatherhood of God, calling it a cultural vestige of a patriarchal age. To do so, however, means to reject not only the revelation which God has given of Himself, but also His creational design for harmonious human relationships.

God the Son. Why did God become a man rather than a woman? As in the case of the Fatherhood of God, some feminists seek to account for the maleness of Christ primarily on the basis of culturally conditioned reasons. Scanzoni and Hardesty, for example, argue:

Given the setting of patriarchal Judaism, Jesus had to be male . . . Jewish women were kept in subjection and sometimes even seclusion. A female Messiah would have had little scriptural knowledge (according to the Talmud, the Torah should rather be burned than transmitted to a woman), and would not have been allowed to teach publicly in the synagogue, or have been believed if she had. And with her monthly "uncleanness" making her ritually impure for a fourth of the time, a female Messiah would have taken at least an extra year to complete God’s mission.50

Paul Jewett expresses concisely the same view: "the incarnation in the form of male humanity, though historically and culturally necessary, was not theologically necessary."51 Is this true? Was Christ’s incarnation as a man determined primarily by cultural necessities? Would a female Christ have equally fulfilled the role of the second Adam, the head of the redeemed humanity (Rom 5:14; 1 Cor 15:22,45)? Would a female Christ have equally fulfilled such male messianic typologies as a prophet-like-Moses (Deut 18:15,18), a King-like-David (2 Sam 7:12,16), an Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Is 9:6), a suffering servant (Is 53), and a heavenly Son of Man (Dan 7:13-14)? It is hard to see how a female Christ could have fulfilled these male messianic typologies and become the new Adam, head of the Redeemed humanity.

Reasons for the Maleness of Christ. The typological correspondence between Adam and Christ can help us understand a major theological reason for the maleness of the incarnate Christ. Both Adam and Christ stand in Scripture as representative of fallen and redeemed humanity respectively: "For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man's obedience many will be made righteous" (Rom 5:19). "Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the man of heaven" (1 Cor 15:49).

The reason why Adam rather than Eve functions as the head and representative of the human race is not because of any moral or spiritual superiority, but simply because, as we have seen, God, by creating man first, established him as the head of humanity (1 Tim 2:13; 1 Cor 11:8).

The reason why God chose the man and not the woman to function as the head of humanity, of the home, and of the church, is not given in the Scriptures. We have argued repeatedly that it is not a question of superiority or inferiority but of complementary functional roles men and women have been equipped by God to fulfill. Man was created to serve as father and head of the family and woman was created to serve as mother and nurturer of the family.

Being made a representative of humanity, Adam became "a type (typos) of the one who was to come" (Rom 5:14). Since God has assigned this representative, headship role to the male, Christ had to become incarnate as a man to be able to function as the representative and the head of the church (Eph 5:23). The male headship of Christ in the church becomes in turn the model for the headship of the husband in the home and the headship of male pastor/elder in the church.

In a sense the incarnation of God as a man reveals the importance that God attaches to the creational role distinctions assigned to men and women. It is only by blurring or eliminating such distinctions that one can deny the necessity of the fatherhood of God and of the maleness of Christ. Susan Foh expresses the same conviction very clearly:

Those who deny the theological necessity of God incarnate as a man also reject those passages which teach any differences between men and women as culturally determined. As in the case of the fatherhood of God, these theologians first eliminate the distinctions Scripture makes between men and women; then they say there is no ultimate reason Christ came to earth as a male. If one believes, "I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over men; she is to keep silent" and its theological justification, "For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor" (1 Tim 2:12-14), to be true, then there is one obvious reason why Christ could not have been a woman.52

In the light of the foregoing considerations we conclude that while God's mode of personal existence transcends male and female categories, through Jesus Christ He has revealed Himself supremely as Father, and He chose to incarnate Himself as a man. The male category used by God to reveal Himself as Father and as a male person through the incarnation of His Son, has great significance because it expresses the role that He sustains toward His creatures: Creator, Sustainer, and Savior. This role is the foundational analogy which serves as a model for the role men are called to fulfill as fathers in the home and as pastors/elders in the household of God: "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives its name" (Eph 3:14-15; NIV, margin).


This chapter has shown that the New Testament envisions the church as an extended family of believers in which the elder/pastor serves in dual representative roles: on the one hand as representative of the church members to God and on the other hand as God's representative to the church members.

Women cannot legitimately serve in such dual representative roles, not because they are any less capable than men of piety, zeal, learning, leadership or other aptitudes required to serve as a pastor, but simply because such roles are perceived in Scripture as being those of a spiritual father and not of a spiritual mother. To blur or eliminate the role distinctions God assigned to men and women in the home and in the church, means not only to act contrary to His creational design, but also to accelerate the breakdown of the family and church structure.

The pastor fulfills a unique symbolic role in the church as representative of the heavenly Father, Shepherd, High Priest, and Head of the church. A woman pastor cannot appropriately fulfill such a symbolic role because her Scriptural role is not that of a father, shepherd, priest or head of the church. Thus, to ordain women to serve as pastors/elders means not only to violate a divine design, but also to adulterate the pastor's symbolic representation of God.

The efforts of liberal and evangelical feminists to clear the path for a female priesthood by revising the language of God through the introduction of impersonal or feminine names for God is a most dangerous trend which, if allowed to prevail, will result in a new religion widely at variance with the Christian faith.

God has revealed Himself supremely as Father through His Son, Jesus Christ, who became a man and not a woman. We have seen that God’s choice of these male categories to reveal Himself is most important. It tells us something about the role which He sustains toward us His children, namely, the role of an almighty, just, compassionate and caring Father. This role of the Heavenly Father functions as the foundational model for all forms of human fatherhood (Eph 3:14-15), whether it be that of the husband in the home or of the pastor in the church.

Christian fulfillment in the home and in the church is to be found not by blurring, eliminating or reversing gender roles, but by willingly respecting the distinctive roles assigned by the Creator to men and women. Elisabeth Elliot’s fitting expression of this conviction will serve as an apt conclusion to this chapter:

Supreme authority in both the Church and the home has been divinely vested in the male as the representative of Christ, who is the Head of the Church. It is in willing and glad submission rather than grudging capitulation that the woman in the Church (whether married or single) and the wife in the home find their fulfillment.53


1. Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty, All We’re Meant to Be (Waco, Texas, 1975), p. 177.

2. The Order of Priesthood: Nine Commentaries on the Vatican Decree Inter Insignores (Huntington, Indiana, 1978), p. 12.

3. Pirqe Aboth 3, 7.

4. This view is expressed by Hermann W. Beyer, "Episcopos," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1974), vol. 2, pp. 616-617; see also Raymond Brown, Priest and Bishop, Biblical Reflections (New York, 1970), pp. 77-78.

5. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1974), p. 533.

6. Joachim Jeremias, "Poimen," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973), vol. 6, p. 498.

7. Jerome D. Quinn, "Ordination in the Pastoral Epistles," Communio 8 (Winter 1981): 368.

8. B. W. Powers, "Patterns of New Testament Ministry—1. Elders," The Churchman 87, 3 (Autumn 1973): 175; see also Ed Glasscock, "‘The Husband of One Wife’ Requirements," Bibliotheca Sacra 140 (July-September 1983): 250.

9. See James B. Hurley, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1981), p. 229; Susan T. Foh, Women and the Word of God (Phillipsburg, New Jersey, 1979), p. 128.

10. David P. Scaer, "C. S. Lewis on Women Priests," Concordia Theological Quarterly 44, 1 (January 1980): 58.

11. Rosemary Reuther, "The Other Side of Marriage," A. D. Magazine 8, 6 (June 1979): 8-9.

12. Donald G. Bloesch, Is the Bible Sexist? (Westchester, Illinois, 1982), p. 56.

13. Ibid.

14. Michael Novak, "Man and Woman He Made Them," Communio 8 (Spring 1981) 248.

15. Donald G. Bloesch (n. 12), p. 56.

16. E. Margaret Howe, Women and Church Leadership (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1982), p. 205.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid.

19. Bishop Kirk, Beauty and Bands (London, 1955), pp. 179, 186.

20. E. Margaret Howe (n. 16), p. 201.

21. Deborah Belonick, "The Spirit of the Female Priesthood," in Women and the Priesthood, ed. Thomas Hopko (New York, 1983), p. 166. The author emphasizes that to be ordained a priest "means, by the mystery of the Spirit, to bear the presence of, not to represent, the priesthood of Jesus Christ at the altar and in all the sacraments of the Church" (Ibid.).

22. C. S. Lewis, "Priestesses in the Church," in God in the Dock, ed. Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1970), p. 238.

23. Ibid.

24. Cited in W. Andrew Hoffecker and John Timmerman, "Watchmen in the City: C. S. Lewis's View of Male and Female," The Cresset 41, 4 (February, 1978): 18.

25. E. L. Mascall, "Women and the Priesthood of the Church," in Why Not? Priesthood and the Ministry of Women, eds. Michael Bruce and G. E. Duffield (Appleford, England, 1972), pp. 111-112.

26. For a discussion of the resymbolization of the Godhead, see, Mary Daly, Beyond God the Father: Toward the Philosophy of Women’s Liberation (Boston, 1973), pp. 69-70; Ruth Tiffany Barnhouse, "An Examination of the Ordination of Women to the Priesthood in Terms of the Symbolism of the Eucharist," in Women and Orders, ed. Robert J. Heyer (New York, 1974), pp. 20-25 Alla Bozart-Campbell, Womanpriest : A Personal Odyssey (New York, 1978), pp. 214 ff.; Rosemary Radford Reuther, New Woman/New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation (New York, 1975), p. 65; Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty (n. 1), p. 21. The United Church of Christ has published a booklet recommending the adoption of alternative impersonal names for God, instead of the traditional trinitarian language. See Inclusive Language Guidelines for Use and Study in the United Church of Christ (St. Louis, 1980). For an incisive critique of feminist attempts to revise the language about God, see Erik Routley, "Sexist Language: A View from a Distance," Worship 53 (January 1979): 2-11; Donald G. Bloesch (n. 12), pp. 61-83; also, Carol P. Christ, "The New Feminist Theology: A Review of the Literature," Religious Studies Review 3 (October 1977): 203ff.

27. A task-force report to the National Council of Churches recommends that Christ be called not "Son of God" but "Child of God." The same report urges avoiding the use of personal pronouns when referring to God. See Newsweek 95, 25 (June 23, 1980): 87; The Christian Century 97, 23 (July 2-9, 1980) 696.

28. Donald G. Bloesch (n. 12), p. 62.

29. Cited in Vladimir Lossky, In the Image and Likeness of God (Crestwood, New York, 1974), p. 129.

30. Deborah Belonick (n. 21), p. 156.

31. Deborah H. Barackman, "Evangelical Women's Caucus: Journeyings," Eternity 31, 11 (December 1980): 35.

32. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Original Feminist Attack on the Bible (the Woman's Bible) (New York, 1974), part 1, p. 14.

33. A. Durwood Foster, "God and Women: Some Theses on Theology, Ethics, and Women's Lib," Religion in Life 42, (1973): 56.

34. Mary Daly (n. 26), pp. 69.

35. Susan T. Foh (n. 9), p. 149.

36. Elaine H. Pagel, "What Became of God the Mother?" in Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow, eds., Womanspirit Rising (San Francisco, 1979), p. 107.

37. James R. Edwards, "Does God Really Want to be Called ‘Father’?" Christianity Today (February 21, 1986): 29.

38. See Deut 32:18; Is 42:14; 46:3; 49:15; 66:11-13; Ps. 131:2; Luke 15:8-10; Matt 23:37.

39. Paul K. Jewett, The Ordination of Women (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1980), p. 41.

40. Letha Scanzoni and Nancy Hardesty (n. 1), p. 20; Virginia Mollenkott, "A Challenge to Male Interpretation: Women and the Bible," The Sojourners 5, 2 (February 1976): 23-25; Paul K. Jewett (n. 39), p. 41; also Paul K. Jewett, Man as Male and Female (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1975), p. 167.

41. Paul K. Jewett (n. 39), p. 41.

42. Hendrikus Berkhof, Christian Faith, tr. Sierd Woudstra (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1979), p. 69.

43. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics: Index Volume with Aids for Preachers, eds. G. W. Bromiley and T. F. Torrance (Edinburgh, 1977), p. 495.

44. See discussion in Gottlob Schrenk, "Pater," Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Friedrich (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1967), vol. 5, p. 985.

45. James R. Edwards (n. 37), p. 29.

46. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I, 1 (Edinburgh, 1963), p. 447.

47. Kallistos Ware, "Man, Woman, and the Priesthood of Christ," in Peter Moore, ed., Man, Woman, and Priesthood (London, 1978), p. 84.

48. Donald G. Bloesch (n. 12), p. 77.

49. Susan T. Foh (n. 9), p. 153.

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