We’ve been talking on and off about the subject of gender differences since October of last year. I don’t really want to carry over into February, so I’ll offer a few more thoughts and let the matter rest.
One sticking point for many people is the question of giftedness. That is, if men and women are equally endowed by the Holy Spirit with spiritual gifts, are we not resisting the Spirit if we limit the exercise of those gifts?
This, my friends, is a powerful argument, at least in my mind. As Nick pointed out the other day, Peter’s quote from the book of Joel in Acts 2 seems to point to a time when women and men will be receiving and using gifts from the Holy Spirit. And the rest of the book of Acts seems to bear that out, particularly when we see the daughters of Philip who are prophetesses.
But there’s something that troubles me, something that I brought up to Jen in one of my replies to her:
Something I want to discuss in a later post is something that I think very important: I believe that believers in the first century were as transformed by the Spirit as we are. Gifted by the Spirit.
So did the Spirit lead men to stifle the gifts of Spirit-filled women because of cultural concerns? Or did the Spirit wait until culture changed before gifting women for roles the culture wouldn’t accept?
My view is that the Spirit is much bigger than human culture and able to form a Christian community within any culture that transcends that culture. If he chose to use males to lead for centuries before the coming of Christ* and chose males to lead during Christ’s ministry and chose males to lead the church after Christ’s ascension, isn’t it quite possible that he had a plan in all of that? Even if we don’t understand all of the whys?
*Yes, there were exceptions at times when the men weren’t living up to what they were supposed to, but none of that changes what the norm was.
I’m wary of a chronological snobbery that says, “We finally got right what the church missed for hundreds of years.” I’m aware that there are some similarities to the issue of slavery, yet I can’t help but see differences as well. Slavery within the church was addressed even when the church abstained from waging a campaign to eradicate slavery in society. Even if the church wasn’t going to change Greco-Roman societal views toward women, major changes could have been implemented from the very beginning of the church. And they weren’t.
Some claim that any who advocate a difference in the activities of men and women in the church are guilty of sin. I can’t help but note that the early church was guilty of the same sin, if it be a sin. And I’m convinced that they too had the Spirit of God.
I don’t believe that spiritual giftedness is new to the last few centuries. I also believe that God’s Spirit was living and active in the first century church, as he is today.
The argument of spiritual giftedness, compelling though it seems, is not enough to lead us to say that God had a different practice in mind than what we see in Scripture: Active, spirit-filled women serving as missionaries and prophetesses, performing works of service and ministry, building up the church through their work, under the authority of male shepherds.
(Ben Witherington had a helpful post the other day on the subject of slavery, in the context of analyzing N.T. Wright’s work on Paul and The Faithfulness of God)