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8.09.2005    |    Deacons, cont'd.
Marcus wrote,
The closer you look at the practice of the early church, the more evidence you find that women functioned in the office of deaconness more frequently than might be expected.

I'd be curious what you do with Paul's commendation of Phoebe in Romans 16
Marcus refers to Romans 16:1-2:
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.
In the ESV (and KJV and NIV), Phoebe is called "a servant of the church", from the Greek diakonia, which my Strong's defines as a hired servant (as against a bonded servant or slave), or, as a...minister. The root meaning of the word in Greek (and English) is to attend to (the church's) needs. Which is precisely what those who are "ministers" or "deacons" do.

It is clear to me that women had a huge role to play in the early church. It is also clear that the first meaning of Paul's writings is that women should not serve as bishops, elders, preachers, or teachers in the church. He did not write this as a preference. He wrote it as a clear prohibition in 1 Timothy 2:12-15:
12I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing--if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
This passage, which is substantially the same, even in some of the newer, trendy translations, can not be wished away. All one can do is treat it as something that isn't binding on today's church.

It comes down to, and here's that nasty word, interpretation. Of the Scriptures as a whole. My belief is that women should not preach or teach in church. That belief is based on one section of one of Paul's epistles to Timothy. A slender reeed, indeed. But it's a more defensible position than deciding the opposite is true -- at least if Scripture is our authority.

If a denomination goes beyond Scripture, the results are variable. What is interesting is that two leading Western churches who depend on tradition, the Roman Catholics and the Anglicans, have used their interpretation of these passages in exactly opposite fashions.

Go figure.

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Anonymous Marcus Brown said...

Great topic and worthy of much discussion and prayerful thought!

My understanding of the diaconate, which I confess is a very Anglican one, includes responsibilities in three areas -- liturgical, pastoral, and social/charitable.

Let me back up and say that I believe that the offices of both bishop and priest/pastor are reserved for men. You have presented some of the relevant texts in this area, but I think a distinction needs to be made between the orders of episcopate (bishop), presbyter (priest), and diaconate (deacon).

If the bishop is an office of overseeing and the office of priest is an office of shepherding, then the office of deacon is one of serving.

From the liturgical standpoint, the deacon is the one who sets and clears the Eucharistic table, reads the Gospel, and pronounces the dismissal.

From a pastoral standpiont, the deacon is often called on to instruct the youth of the congregation, visit the sick, and make known the needs of the poor in the Church in order that the Church can meet those needs.

From a social/charitable standpoint, the deacon is tasked with seeing the needs of the community and to interpret those needs to the Church. This typically provides for natural and informal opportunities for evangelism.

All of this to say that while I generally agree with your interpretation of 1 Tim 2:12-15 in a general sense of men and women's roles in the body of Christ, I don't think that the function of the diaconate would violate these prohibitions. The diaconate is markedly distinct from the episcopate and the presbyter. Deacons serve under the authority of a bishop within a congregation, usually under the guidance of a priest. As such, the diaconate is an assisting and supporting ministry, not one which exercises authority over others.

I have no problem belonging to a congregration that is served by a female deacon. I think the Scriptures are not clear and convincing so as to
allow women to serve as priests or bishops. Not only are these are positions of governance and oversight, but they also have symbolic connotations called to correspond to the way God has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture.

However, I think the diaconate, as described in Scripture, is different enough in its nature, has no prohibition from women serving. In fact, one might even be able to argue that women, as designed by God, are in fact very well-suited to be placed in an order of service, support and help.

Again, this largely depends on how a particular denomination envisions this order. I know that Methodists and some Baptists have a different concpetion than Anglicans, so I'm sure there are arguments that might be otherwise convincing.

3:31 PM, August 09, 2005  
Blogger Jack Rich said...

I've got no problem at all with women serving, and, in our church, this is basically what all deacons do. They are not clerical, i.e. ordained, as someone with that title would be in the Anglican or Roman traditions.

I have some difficulty, however, when a woman deacon gets into what I'd call a leadership or preaching role. This is troublesome, for the reasons cited from Scripture.

As I wrote in my first post, however, my difficulty is not shared by a majority of the congregation. And, frankly, there are far more pressing issues for all of us Christians in today's world.

And, who knows but that I might learn something from one of our women deacons....

5:30 PM, August 09, 2005  

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Welcome. My name is John Luke Rich, (very) struggling Christian. The focus here is Christianity in its many varieties, its fussing and feuding, how it impacts our lives and our society, with detours to consider it with other faiths (or lack thereof).

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I was born Jewish, and born again in Christ Jesus over thirty years ago. First as a Roman Catholic; now a Calvinist by persuasion and a Baptist by denomination. But I'm hardly a poster boy for doctrinal rigidity.

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