Posted by: lepages | January 5, 2014

Women in leadership – all one in Christ Jesus

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It’s a long time since I’ve blogged my preaching notes, but here they are from our first Sunday’s teaching of the year at Rutland Road Church and here’s a direct link to the live recording of what I brought… which suffers from a number of distractions including problems with my presentation (slide shot above), problems with my microphone and a runny nose!

So, anyway, here’s my notes…..

Women in Leadership – ‘All one in Christ Jesus’

Galatians 3:26-29 p1170

Happy New Year to you all!

Hope you’re rested and have had a restorative time over the Christmas/New Year holiday period

Hope you’ve been spiritually refreshed as we’ve spent time reflecting on the wonder of the Christmas story, of Immanuel – God with us.

Sounds like those of you who were here had a wonderful time last Sunday giving testimony to God’s grace and favour on our lives through the last year.

Well, we’re now looking forwards!

Time to get the brains in gear again – not just those returning to school, education, work!

Through January we’re going to do a series of teaching on (PP) Women in Leadership

Whilst we were over in Guernsey on holiday visiting my family, one of the deacons in my parents’ church was preaching on the Sunday morning. He preached on ‘worldliness’.

I expected that his preach would be about naming all the worldly things which we as Christians sometimes let dominate our lives… but it wasn’t! He came from quite a different angle to what I expected and it was really refreshing as he unpacked the theme from scripture and experience.

I hope that as we as elders unpack the theme of ‘Women in Leadership’ over the next few weeks that we might similarly come from quite a different angle to what is expected, and that it might be refreshing as we unpack the theme from scripture and from experience!

I grew up in a very traditional Brethren assembly. Women had no role to play in the church overall. They had to be silent. They weren’t allowed to pray out loud, introduce a hymn, read scripture… they weren’t allowed to say a word – except join in with the men in singing hymns.

I believed this was right, because in 1 Corinthians 14:34 it says:-

‘Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak….’

I left Guernsey just before my 18th birthday and went to college in London.

I had my approved list of Brethren assemblies to go and visit.

The first meeting I went to was a Wednesday night prayer meeting.

I was somewhat stunned when I went in and some of the women weren’t wearing a head covering. I was in shock when during the course of the meeting when a woman stood up and prayed!!

 I went home and had a long telephone conversation with my Mum.

What should I do?

Do you think the Lord could have sent me there to show them the truth from God’s Word?

My Mum was very gracious, and suggested that perhaps I should visit some of the other assemblies I had on my list.

I did… and at each one I found women praying and participating in the services.

By the time I had visited four it made me start to stop and wonder… and I prayerfully went back to reading scripture to see if there could be any justifiable reason for this wholesale disregard for the plain teaching of scripture.

As I did that I read from scripture in 1 Corinthians 11 about the wearing of head coverings… and of how in that culture it was a disgrace for women to pray or prophesy with their heads uncovered… and there was this sudden dawning that it’s possible for women to pray silently… but you can’t prophesy silently…. therefore as Paul had given this church instruction on how women should pray and prophesy in the church, the keeping silent was clearly not about not saying a word in church!

 In the evangelical church today, there are two main streams of theological thought as far as women’s ministry in the life of the church go.

 They are termed (PP) Complementarian and (PP) Egalitarian

Now, please don’t switch off!

We’re going to explore them a bit!

Your brains have had a bit of recovery time over the Christmas period, so now they need to do some grappling!! 😉

The basic principle of the complementarian line of thought is that God created men and women differently – not just physically, but in every way, and so that should lead to men and women fulfilling different roles and functions in life and faith. Men are seen as the leaders, with women working alongside and complementing them through their own respective ministries and callings

That’s the basic view of complementarian thought – but within it there is quite a wide latitude of interpretation – so for example there are those complementarians who would feel that women should never teach the whole church, and there are those – and I would have put myself in this place at this time last year – who feel that women can teach, provided they do so under the authority of a male eldership. There are those complementarians who would feel that this complementary relationship should extend in every area of society and that leadership should always be male, at every level of society. Equally there are those who would say that this complementary relationship only really finds its true definition within the roles and life of the church, or indeed within marriage, and that there are levels of leadership which women may operate in outside of church eldership.

That’s a basic summing up of the breadth of thought from a complementarian end.

The egalitarian line of thought is that when God created human beings, he created them male and female, and he created them equal in every way. The egalitarian line would say that as a result of ‘the fall’, when Adam and Eve sinned and disobeyed God, that that relationship of equality was disrupted, but that in Christ it is restored. An egalitarian would therefore not put any limitation on women’s role in leadership in the church or in any other setting as man and woman are seen as equal in every way – each made in the image of God, each adopted as children of God through Christ.

On a few occasions in the last few years it has seemed appropriate to invite a lady to preach or teach on the basis of an older woman teaching the younger women, for example on Mothering Sunday; on ‘Being a woman of God’; to share in the teaching with their husband, on the theme of ‘Marriage’, and so on.

As a complementarian who was happy for women to teach under the authority of the elders, I asked the other elders early last year for permission to consider inviting ladies to bring teaching where we thought it might be appropriate, at other times.

In response it was felt that we ought to take some time to review our position as elders and not to pursue that line without doing so – on account of the last statement we had made as elders, as far as the ministry of women was concerned, had given freedom to all activities except teaching the whole church and eldership.

We set ourselves to study and pray over several months, to talk and to share honestly and openly our own positions.

As we did that, much to my surprise, as I studied scripture I found my position changing in a way that I would not have expected! A way which I’m still not 100% comfortable with!! But that’s about me, rather than about scripture.

We’re going to have a little explore of scripture over the next few weeks so that you can see where we are coming from as elders at this time.

Turn with me if you would to (PP) Genesis 1:26-28 p4

Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’

The word ‘man’ lit. adam, is used in both singular and plural tenses – so the more recent version of the NIV translation puts let us make mankind in our image NLT puts humankind

Male and female created together in the image of God and jointly entrusted with care for and responsibility over the earth. And God when he’d finished thought he’d done a pretty good job (see v31!)

Chapter 2 unpacks chapter 1 a bit and we find that man & woman were created to be partners as it wasn’t good for the man to be alone. God is community, and so we, as human beings created in his image, are created for community..

In chapter 3, it all goes wrong – and we see a differentiation between male and female as a result – and the pattern for male/female relationships is set. The culture of men doing the work and women raising the children is set into being…. except that right through the history of God’s people there are exceptions… women who are raised to significant positions of authority, leadership and responsibility. And we might touch on some of those next week… And then, at the end of Proverbs we have the description of the ‘perfect wife’ – who is anything but a stay at home housewife – much more a successful business woman, as well as a fantastic mother and manager.

But even though there were these significant honouring of women at different times in the Old Testament, it wasn’t the prevailing culture amongst Jewish men, summed up in a Jewish Orthodox prayer, ‘I thank God that I am not a slave, a Gentile, or a woman…’

Jesus came and overturned cultural norms in the Jewish world in how he related to women.

He talked with the woman at the well, on his own, which was not the done thing. He had women sitting at his feet receiving teaching – which was something normally reserved only for men – you can parallel it with the way in which some Muslims say ‘women are not required to go to mosque’. Jesus then chose women to be the first to go and communicate the Good News of his resurrection – in a culture which said that one man’s testimony was of more worth than 4 women’s.

The New Testament church changed things further – and we’ll see more of this in the coming weeks – in the religious culture of the Jewish world of the time, just as many Muslim women are not expected to go and worship at the mosque, so it was the men who spoke out the prayers, whether at the Temple or in the Synagogue.

In 1 Corinthians 11, which I touched on earlier, all of a sudden we have both men and women praying and prophesying – and if you read through the chapters on the gifts of the Spirit and their use in worship, there doesn’t appear to be any division or separation into those which are made available to be used by men and those which are available and to be used by women.

And so we come to our scripture for today from (PP) Galatians 3:26-29 p1170

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.

Paul wrote the letter to the Galatians to counter a creeping threat in the life of the church – a creeping in requirement for Christians of whatever background to be obedient to all the Jewish law – this aside from the threat to the gospel, that our salvation is through faith in Christ’s sacrifice alone – not based on our works or anything we have done – would also have brought levels of division – only a God fearing Gentile, not a true Jew; a saved slave… but not a freeman… a woman… with a place in life…

Some scholars believe that Paul included these words in response to the Orthodox Jewish prayer ‘I thank you God that you have not made me a slave, a Gentile or a woman….’

Jesus said ‘If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’ – and this creeping Judaizing was in danger of restricting that freedom… in so many ways.

Paul says, in Christ, what our background is doesn’t matter any more, because now we are restored to the relationship we had with God before the fall – made in God’s image as humankind – jointly entrusted, male and female with the authority to care for and oversee his creation as equals again.

FF Bruce – a Brethren theologian of the last century, argued that the setting of Galatians 3 is more than spiritual, it’s also practical. He said that ‘just as Gentiles may become leaders in the church, no less than Jews, so too can slaves no less than free, and women no less than men.’

In the coming weeks we’ll begin to have a bit more of a look at how leadership worked out in the life of the early church, and there’ll be plenty of opportunity to talk and share together in our small groups during the week.

For now though, let’s celebrate the freedom which Christ has brought for us through his sacrifice on the cross. Let’s celebrate the fact that it doesn’t matter what background we come from, whether from a background of faith or no faith, from rich or poor, from whatever nationality or ethnicity, or whether we are male or female, because we are all one in Christ Jesus.

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