Monday, October 11, 2010

Women in the Church - Part I of 3

Title: Women in the Church - Part 1 of 3
A Three Part Series on women in leadership and women ministering in the Church
Text: 1 Timothy 2:11-15
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 11 Oct 2010

Is Paul an MCP?” (male chauvinist pig)? I ask a question regarding the controversial passage to a group of men and women. Some quietly defends Paul, but a vocal few fiercely criticize Paul. After all, in our modern world of women’s lib, and open lifestyle of equality and freedom, how many of us can really expect women to be silent? Moreover, some men have been known to say stupid and insensitive things. Ask any wife and they will readily admit their husbands are far from perfect. Open up the papers and look at some public gaffes uttered by some male politicians. Look at 2 of the quotes from the ex-President of the US.

  • "I’m honoured to shake the hand of a brave Iraqi citizen who had his hand cut off by Saddam Hussein"
  • "I remember meeting a mother of a child who was abducted by the North Koreans right here in the Oval Office"

Humour aside, there is a more serious concern about 1 Timothy. These words of Paul are recorded in the Bible. They are held with high regard and reverence by Christians the world over. If men and women are equally imperfect, why is Paul the Apostle, writing such words that appears so distasteful to our 21st Century ears? More critically, by having these letters canonized as Holy Scripture, isn’t that an unfair advantage ceremoniously awarded to the male gender? Does this contradict the Bible as the credible Word of God? Is the Bible still relevant for our modern world?

Let me start by recognizing that this passage is tough to interpret. Reading the texts makes me uncomfortable. Without any knowledge or background, the injunctions against women are indeed offensive to modern ears. This will be a 3-part series on “Women in the Church.” I shall deal with the passages from 1 Tim 2:11-15, going through a verse at a time. At each verse, I will identify some major concerns, highlight the contexts, suggest some contemporary applications and my conclusion. In the spirit of learning and open discussion, I want to keep this commentary as welcoming as possible. You are welcome to put in your views by using the comment facility in this blog. In Part One, I will deal with the question “Should Women Remain Silent in Church?

In Part Two, I will discuss two other questions; “Can Women Teach in the Church?” and whether Paul is proposing “An Unfair Hierarchy?

In Part Three, I will deal with the questions: “Women Committing a Greater Sin?” and “Women Saved Through Childbearing?” Part One will be published on Monday, 11th October, 2010. Part Two on Tuesday, 12th October 2010, and Part Three on Wednesday, 13th October 2010.

A) PROBLEM #1 – Should Women Remain Silent in Church? (v11)

“A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.”
CONCERN: Why must such a sanction be only for women? Isn’t Paul a sexist? Why must Paul discriminate among men and women? What is the thing about submission? Since Paul is a male, certainly it is easy for him to hem down on women. Can he put himself in the shoes of women?

Looking at it, it is certainly quite an impossible thing to assert in the Church of today. That said, let us look at the context.

CONTEXT: Remember that the problem faced by the Church in Ephesus is a unique one at that time. False teachings and the rampant number of false teachers are Paul’s immediate concerns. Paul is not specifically talking about an absolute gag on women of all ages through time. He is talking about a specific action designed for a specific challenge during the 1st Century. During that time, most women were uneducated. They do not have the privilege to go to school and be educated, unlike the men. Moreover, the culture tends to prefer the men to be the leaders and teachers of religious places. Having said that, the responsibilities placed on men are significantly more serious than those placed on women.

Note that Paul is referring to an inner attitude of ‘submissiveness,’ rather than a command for women to bow down and submit to men. What about interpreting the verse to be ‘submissive to God,’ rather than to be overly gender sensitive. That said, what Paul is saying to the women does not necessarily mean the men are excluded. All are supposed to submit to God. We need also to be aware that at that time, readers will understand Paul’s words as referring to the whole Church, not just any particular gender. In other words, the words of Paul are to be assumed applicable to all, but certain genders when mentioned, need to pay particular attention when called. It is like saying, all of us need to obey God, but for certain people they need to pay attention in a more specific way appropriate to their situation. It is not meant to be permanent, but necessary due to the havoc the false teachers are creating.

Women nowadays are generally not expected to shut their mouths even in religious situation. They have every right to speak or to stay silent. Whatever they do, it needs to be in line with right teaching and maintaining unity in the Church. As much as women are allowed to teach, men should also be exhorted to step up. The Church belongs Christ. It comprises of both men and women. With better education, and respectable behaviour, women can play a positive and larger role in the Church. Yet, Church discipline goes beyond all genders. If there is a time to keep quiet, stay silent. If it is time to talk, speak up. Do whatever possible to maintain a level of order or discipline within the Church. If the situation at Ephesus are the recur in any of our Churches now, where  gullible people are used by false teachers to spread heresy, leaders of the Church have to step in to rein in the peace disrupters.

Look out for Part Two tomorrow, where I deal with verses 12-13.


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