John T. Willis

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Biblical Female Teachers, Deacons, Elders, Preachers--Part 3

RHETORIC is a very important aspect of all life, whether a society realizes it or not. RHETORIC shapes the thoughts of people. In thinking about the biblical teaching of female teachers, deacons, elders, and preachers, it is very important to emphasize some fundamental truths from a rhetorical perspective.

1. Some societies, including the Western world and certainly including the United States, think of life as structured by "hierarchies." Let us be clear about this term. The Dictionary defines "hierarchy" as. "1. A rank or order of holy beings, especially of angels; also, usually 'celestial hierarchy,' the angelic orders collectively. 2. A body of rulers, especially of ecclesiastics, disposed organically in ranks and orders each subordinate to the one above it; also, such a system of church government or its authority. 3. A series of objects, or items divided or classified in ranks or orders, as in natural science or logic; a hierarchical arrangement."
Many societies, and certainly many churches, including Churches of Christ, "buy into" this idea of a "hierarchy." The hierarchy is this:
God or Christ as the Head
Elders [in a local church]
The Local Public Preacher
The Staff
Influential Teachers and Motivators
The rest of the members of the church.
Without thinking, many churches automatically ASSUME this is simply the way life IS and SHOULD BE. Many churches will try to argue this view from the Bible.
But biblically, this whole idea of a "hierarchical rule" in the church is a fiction, and even contrary to God's will.
The Biblical view is that God through Jesus Christ is "the Head." EVERYONE else is a member of the SPIRITUAL BODY. NO MEMBER of the body is more important than any other member of the BODY. This is a metaphor comparing the church with the human body. Major texts which emphasize this are well known: Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; Ephesians 4:1-16; 5:21-33; Colossians 1:15-20; 2:8-19.
These texts teach clearly:
a. EVERY MEMBER of the body is important. There is no hierarchy here UNLESS one realizes that God through Jesus Christ is the HEAD: no one else but God through Jesus Christ. Every member of the body has an important FUNCTION, NOT an authoritative POSITION in the church.
b. One member CANNOT say before God that he or she is above any other member. The eye is not superior to the hand, and the hand is not inferior to the eye. This missed the whole point. RATHER, each member has an important FUNCTION in the body.
c. Ephesians 4:15-16 highlights this point. Pay careful attention to these two verses: "WE [the whole body=the whole church; WE is plural] must grow up IN EVERY WAY into him, who is the head, into Christ, from whom THE WHOLE BODY [NOT just the elders or the deacons or the staff or the local preacher or anyone else, but the whole body], joined and knit together BY EVERY [not just one, nor this or that] LIGAMENT with which it IS EQUIPPED [God has "wired" each person to do what God wants each person to do], as EACH PART [not just the males, not just the females, not just the old, not just the young, but each part] is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love."

2. Many societies, including the church, emphasize the importance of LEADERSHIP. Hence, we exalt all kinds of people in politics, in sports, in business, in social organizations, and the works as LEADERS.
a. This whole idea is blantly contradictory to the biblical message. Matthew 20:20-28 and Mark 10:35-45 relate the story of the two sons of Zebedee [James and John] who wanted sit at Jesus' right and left hand in God's kingdom. The other apostles of Jesus became very angry about this, apparently because they belong at this very position. Jesus' response is VERY CLEAR:
"You know that the RULERS of the Gentiles LORD it OVER them, and their GREAT ONES are TYRANTS over them. IT WILL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU, but whoever WISHES to be GREAT among you MUST be your SERVANT, and whoever WISHES to be FIRST among you must be your SLAVE, just as the Son of Man came NOT TO BE SERVED, but to SERVE, and to give his life a ransom for many."
b. Paul makes this same point frequently. Paul is an "apostle," but what does he say about his FUNCTION? "What is Apollos? What is Paul? SERVANTS through whom you came to believe, as THE LORD ASSIGNED TO EACH" (1 Corinthians 3:5). "Think of us in this way, as SERVANTS OF CHRIST and STEWARDS of God's mysteries" (1 Corinthians 4:1). Paul did not STRUT among people or the church as a LEADER, but humble submitted himself to Jesus Christ as his SERVANT.

3. Romans 12:4-5 and Ephesians 4:11-12 clearly explain what God desires of his people, the church.
a. Each member in the body, the church, has a FUNCTION, NOT a hierarchical POSITION above other members in the body. Romans 12:4.
b. Each member in the body receives GIFTS from God. Each person has a gift. A major truth each person must understand is to attempt to determine the GIFT God has given to me. Ephesians 4:11 declares that some GIFTS are people in the body, the church. Paul enumerates:
None of these "categories" is necessarily males only. Paul says in Romans 16:7 that Adronicus [a male] and Junia [a female] were "prominent among the apostles." Study the word "apostle" and try to determine what this term might mean. Acts 2:27; 21:9 specifically identify women as well as men as prophets. The woman at the well in John 4 was clearly an "evangelist." Pastors are "shepherds," and shepherds in ancient society we both males and females. Proverbs 31:26; James 3:1 make it clear that both men and women are teachers.

These introductory observations may be helpful for detailed study of biblical female teachers, deacons, elders, and preachers. In the next blog, we will explore what the Bible teaches about male and female teachers.

Share YOUR thoughts and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis