I’ve seen some very bad radical egalitarian arguments for women’s ordination but this one from Ben Witherington III, who apparently did his own doctoral thesis on the New Testament on the topic of women in ministry in the church, probably, surprisingly, has come up with the worst argument for women’s ordination ever! June 2, his post entitled “Why Arguments Against Women in Ministry Aren’t Biblical”. Forget that the vast majority of Christians already agree with the idea of women in ministry but never mind that, let’s just lump the high churchers, the Catholics, and the Orthodox, together with the low churchers, and other Protestant groups and state any one who disagrees with women’s ordination automatically dismisses women’s full participation in ministry. This is incredibly intellectually dishonest for a scholar to assert and it really grieves me to see Christians blundering like this when it comes to the debate over radical egaliatarianism within the Church/churches. Yes, even Christians make mistakes regretfully–Christians who are honest even.
Let’s get to the worst argument though–Witherington has chosen to reduce this entire discussion to the exclusion of a major theological doctrine for many of the ecclesiastical body he has criticized. This doctrine is sola ecclesiae–the Church alone. For Catholics, Orthodox, and high churchers, it simply won’t do to have proof-texts thrown at us in this discussion and to simply just assert that “since it ain’t in the Bible, I ain’t going to believe it” seems to exclude us from the discussion before-hand. I think that’s fine to be excluded from the discussion personally. I don’t see sola scriptura Christians as fully connected to the Church. I believe they are a part of the Church by their baptism but they are not fully ingrained into the roots of the Church yet. There is no reason to be involved in a discussion that is entirely Protestant in its doctrinal assumptions when Protestants aren’t even full members of the community as of yet. (Keep in mind, I’m speaking as a High Anglican here and acknowledge that for many Orthodox and Catholics, I am technically schismatic–the schisms are not my own fault or their past faults and we continue to work together with our respective bodies to form a more perfect, stable union with each other some time in the future.) My problem is that Witherington assumes Catholics and Orthodox and high churchers into the discussion and is telling them to be “more Biblical”.
Now of course equally sincere Christians may disagree on this matter, but the disagreements should be on the basis of sound exegesis of Biblical texts, not emotions, rhetoric, mere church polity, dubious hermeneutics and the like.
So in this post I am going to deal with the usual objections to women in ministry, one by one. Some of these objections come out of a high church tradition, some tend to come from low church traditions, some are Catholic/Orthodox some are Protestant, but we will take on a sampling of them all without trying to be exhaustive or exhausting.
Note Witherington’s assumption–he includes Catholic/Orthodox, low church traditions, high church traditions, and other Protestant traditions into a “table talk” centering around a discussion that must ultimately be determined by “sound exegesis of Biblical texts”. This has two rhetorics already (which already is breaking his own rules here of not using rhetoric)–we invite groups that don’t accept our views on Biblical authority into the discussion and tell them to use our views of Biblical authority to arrive at our conclusions. As Admiral Ackbar would say: “IT’S A TRAP!” First and foremost, using sound Biblical exegesis, I am going to make an argument for why doctrines need to be determined from “mere church polity” (which by no means is “mere” when you consider the Church).
The Church, first and foremost, is a divine institution. First established in the New Testament by Christ himself. “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matt. 16:18-19)
“For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.” (Eph. 5:23)
“the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15)
I personally have no idea, how, after studying the historical development of Christianity, one can adhere to sola scriptura, rejecting the doctrine of sola ecclesiae and still honestly say they “take the Bible seriously”. It’s all a Biblicist rhetoric to catch someone off guard. One must abide by the teachings of the Church if one is to remain Christian. There is no individualism in the body of Christ. One has surrendered their individualism to become a member. One does not choose for themselves the path of clerical service but rather is chosen by God. As such, we have no right of our own selves to pick and choose whether women should or should not be ordained. If the Church, divinely instituted by Christ, has never ordained a women to the Eucharistic service, I see no reason why we should break that rule. But again, I emphasize–this DOES NOT MEAN that women are excluded from ministry! The sacraments are what enable ministry to begin! You are not a Christian if you are not baptized. You may be preparing for baptism and as such, are connected to the Church but have not yet made any commitments. Unbaptized people are still very much important to the Church as baptized people are. The Church has a duty to baptize and connect people to the Church by making them disciples. The Eucharist heals body and soul so that we may exercise our given ministries throughout the week.
Back to Witherington. He writes, in his first comment, literally:
1) Women can’t be ministers, because only males can be priests offering the sacrifice of the Mass etc. The root problem with this argument is that the NT is perfectly clear that apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists, elders, deacons ARE NOT PRIESTS IN THE NT. There is no need for a separate order of priests in the NT because Christ’s sacrifice made obsolete the entire OT sacerdotal system of priests, temples and sacrifices. The only priesthoods we hear about in the NT are: 1) the priesthood of all believers, which of course includes women, and 2) the heavenly high priesthood of Christ (see Hebrews).
I truthfully stopped reading the rest of what he wrote at this point. I don’t mean to say so what that there is no mention of a Eucharistic priesthood in the scriptures but SO WHAT?!? There is no mention of the word Trinity in the Bible, no “God in three persons”, no consubstantiality or anything of the sort! Yet Protestants have no trouble accepting these doctrines and possibly even labeling the Jehovah’s Witnesses as heretics despite this! There is no way for an ordinary person whatsoever to derive the doctrine of the Trinity from any where in the Bible! So why must Catholics, Orthodox, and other high churchers have to find you the verse where the sacerdotal priesthood is mentioned? We don’t because we assume that the Church is divine and has already given us the sacraments as rightly instituted by Christ. This seems right after all the scriptures showing the full authority of the Church and absolutely none mentioning the so-called “authority of scriptures”. To be a Churchman means accepting the sacraments of the Church because it is the sacraments of the Church which give us life. As holy orders is a sacrament of the Church, if you want to include us high churchers, Catholics, and Orthodox into the discussion, then don’t tell us we should simply get rid of the sacraments of the Church. Not gonna happen! Until then, don’t assume that this discussion includes high churchers, Catholics, or Orthodox Christians. It is simply a warped Protestant rhetoric that is being used here by Witherington.