Saturday, August 13, 2005

Should our CU have women speakers?

Here's a question that comes up from time to time... one to start some discussion methinks. Perhaps later we can discuss "Should our CU have Prophecy?" but lets not do that one here.

A few remarks
1. CU - Christian Union.
A Christian Union, for the sake of this discussion, is a Mission Team. It is Evangelical in nature - united around the core truths of the gospel. Doctrinal Basis. This statement of core truths is the basis of fellowship of a Christian Union. It is the common ground that should unite, inspire for evangelism and lead to joyful worship. CU's range from 1-400+ members. Worth noting at the outset that this issue only seems to arise in the bigger groups. CU's must develop practical policy on grounds where partners differ. That is, a CU will have within it people who affirm the truth and authority of scripture but differ on interpretation. Without saying that all applications are valid we must note that there are difficult passages where we may not have the correct application. Action must still be taken practically.

2. The Ground for Debate
Scripturally there seem to be three places to look. I will take it as written that equal status is granted to all human beings through the gospel of Jesus Christ. But equality of being may or may not be accompanied by equality of role.

1 Corinthians 14v26-40
Titus 2v3-5
1 Timothy 2

The first of these seems not to be concerned with Teaching. Rather its concern is with question-asking during a meeting of the church. This is prohibited.
The second would appear to insist that women teach other women.
The later appears also quite straight forward in some aspects, and yet deeply puzzling in others. 1 Timothy 2, for me, presents us with the true ground of debate. Much meditation upon the start of the chapter makes for a helpful uniting common ground - to dwell upon the glory of Christ as our Mediator! This puts things in perspective somewhat, strengthens our unity and should cause mutual concern for the glory of Christ to pour forth. Only a context like that can produce good useful debate on difficult issues.

In essence I think the question is - can a woman teach a mixed congregation?
A related question concerns women in leadership.

3. This issue has no neutral ground
Many debating this issue dodge it. I have done in the past. Argument is made that everyone is happy for a man to teach - and so this is the safe ground. There is truth to this - but it is far from neutral. Such ground looks identical to the position that says women cannot teach. Clear explanation may get beyond this. At the other end of the spectrum we find those who say gender makes no difference to Teaching. In such a position over the longer-term I'd expect to see both men and women teaching regularly. This must be noted to be difficult for other believers. In fellowship we must allow ourselves to be wronged, and we must each seek to build one another up in love. Such foundations are incredibly helpful to maintain in heated discussion!

4. Partners in a CU are not entitled to break fellowship on secondary matters
In a CU there will always be compromise to incur. Compromise not on core issues but on specific interpretations. We must allow ourselves to be wronged. We must allow ourselves to admit that we may be wrong. And we must seek not to make life unbearable for others. And we must not break fellowship - to do so would be to declare such matters as core fellowship issues, which they are not.

5. Gifting does not imply total freedom to exercise the gift
1 Corinthians 12-14 teaches us that God's gifts are differently given, to be used in love and also in orderly fashion. When it comes to this debate the presence of gifting does not prove that women can teach in all circumstances, anymore than having the gift of prophecy allows unbridled freedom to prophesy. This is an often used argument which I find unhelpful. :)

6. For what it is worth, here's where I stand at the moment...
1. I think 1 Timothy 2 is very difficult. Anyone who says its easy hasn't read it.
2. I lean towards it saying that women shouldn't teach a mixed congregation - but I'll happily be convinced otherwise. Likewise I think probably at a local church level a woman should not lead the congregation - but I suspect at other levels, including all levels of CU leadership this would be fine. I'll admit I'd struggle to thoroughly defend myself Biblically here.
3. In a CU context the issue is sufficiently secondary and difficult that women should be allowed to teach. This should be done with careful explanation and effort to understand clearly the basis on which a CU has fellowship. And those who disagree have no right as partners in the CU to boycott meetings - but the matter must be dealt with in love and not out of selfish agendas. I suspect the same policy would be wise in a church.