Lauren got sick this Sunday. We’re not sure what happened, or what the nature of her sickness was, but she had what my Grandma Mammenga would call “the ickies.” She just didn’t feel well at all. We left church before the last service, she lay on the couch under blankets and we watched some of her favorite shows on Netflix. Unfortunately, this also meant that she wasn’t feeling well enough to give a tour of the church at 2pm. So that responsibility fell to me. To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to it.
I got to the church a little before 2 to wait for the group. I was told that they had asked for a tour and an explanation of Methodism, since they were coming from a Catholic Church. We started our tour downstairs of the church, walked past the offices and classrooms, went through the Kick Back Cafe, through the preschool, upstairs through the children’s ministry area, and then into the Sanctuary. I thoroughly enjoyed what happened next. The girls (they were a bunch of 8th graders from a Girl Scout troop) started asking me questions.
We went through the normal rigmarole of basics. They wanted to know what makes Methodism different from Catholicism, they wanted to know whether or not Methodists believed in The Holy Spirit, they wanted to know what Methodists believed about Saints, and they wanted to know what Methodists believed about women in ministry. I believe the one girl’s question was “Wait, so women can be pastors too?” I responded with a big and what I’m sure looked to be a silly grin, “YEP!”
Now, I get a LITTLE passionate about this when discussing it with people. So we started to talk about women in ministry. I could hardly contain my excitement. There are few things that I think are cooler than standing in front of people with different beliefs and explaining mine to them. I get excited when I get to talk about women in ministry, and talk about equality in the church. That excitement goes through the roof when the people I’m talking to are two moms and fifteen 8th grade girls that have come from a system that tells them that there is something inherent about men that make them more fit for public ministry and public leadership of the church. I love to tell people that from where I stand, and the way I read the Bible, that the idea that women are somehow inferior to men is COMPLETE scubala.
Scubala is a Greek word that is often translated as dung, refuse, feces, or excrement. The idea is pretty clear with those terms, but I love the way one of my professors described it so much more. Dr. Joe Dongell described that the idea is so much more unimaginably horrible than just human excrement. Scubala should best be described as the nasty knot of hair, scum, mildew, skin cells, and general gunk build-up that you would pull out of a shower drain. Imagine the absolute worst thing you could, and THAT is scubala.
All the readings of the Bible that yield a view of women being excluded from church leadership are simply readings of a text outside of the original context. It is possible to simply read what Paul says without understanding the specific context he’s speaking in and claim that Pauline theology has no room for women in ministry. That is a real possibility, but it is also an extremely irresponsible reading of the text. Dr. Ben Witherington likes to say, “A text without a context is just a pretext for whatever you want it to say.” I don’t have the time or space to explore fully what Paul may have meant in saying that women should remain silent (1 Corinthians 14:34) but I do have time to simply explain one aspect of what Jesus Christ has to say on the issue.
My go-to text for women in ministry is John 20. On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of Jesus and upon finding it empty rushed to tell the disciples. They all came running, and found the tomb just as Mary described it, and then left. Mary, however, remained. Only then, as Mary remains at the tomb weeping, does Jesus appear. He does not appear to the disciples, but rather first appears to Mary, alone. What happens next is utterly amazing, and it is the sticking point with me for women doing WHATEVER they are called to do in the church: preach, teach, lead, disciple, evangelise, absolutely whatever God calls them to do. After Jesus appears to Mary, He tells her to go and tell the disciples that Jesus has risen!
Mary was the first person that Jesus appeared to. Mary was the first person to be commissioned by the risen Jesus Christ for ministry. Mary was the first person to be an evangelist of the risen Lord. Mary was the first preacher of the Gospel, and not to other women, not to children, but to full-grown men. Further, it was not just to any men that she preached, but she preached the Good News of the Resurrection to the men who were with Jesus from the very beginning, the men that get so much attention in the church, the men who would go on to help lay the foundations for what we now call the Global Church.
Jesus COULD have used anybody to be the first messenge, the first bearer of the news about His resurrection. He could have first appeared to Peter, or James, or John, or even Paul (and potentially avoid a serious time of persecution for the church). But He did not; Jesus first appeared to Mary. Much more could be said about this, but I will leave it at this, and allow God to confirm this message in you.
Your Majesty, thank You for sending Your Son on our behalf. Thank You for giving your gifts and your graces to all those you have called, whether male or female, young or old, regardless of race or ethnicity. Thank You for the Global Church and the diversity it carries. Unify us in all things. Through Christ Jesus, Amen.
If you would like to read more extensively on this argument for women in ministry, I would recommend these books:
Paul, Women, and Wives by Craig Keener
Two Views on Women in Ministry by James R Beck
Women in the Ministry of Jesus by Ben Witherington III
Women in the Earliest Churches by Ben Witherington III