Should A Woman Lead The Church?From hot topic Women in Christian Leadership.
Following the historic decision made by the General Synod recently to allow women to become Bishops, we republish this article by Louise Champness, written two years ago when the General Synod reached a different decision. It is helpful to revisit the points Louise makes in the light of the changes which will begin to take place.
Women in Leadership
Many are deeply unhappy at the prospect of a woman leading the church, explaining that they find no biblical authorisation given for such a position. However, although there is no explicit authorisation, the bible appears supportive of the concept. Women in leadership can offer skills, gifts and wisdom that would be detrimental to us as a church to refuse.
Whilst there is obviously some distinction between men and women, to speak of different roles can be dangerous. The concept of roles entails a legalistic pressure to conform to certain behaviour, yet as Christians we are called to be free (Galatians 5:13). For example, to limit the role of a bishop to men alone is to deny the complexity of, in the words of Karl Barth, ‘real man and woman.’ (K.Barth. Church Dogmatics).
Head or Source?
Since it would take several pages to discuss all the biblical passages involved in this debate, I will focus on 1 Corinthians 11:3:
‘The head of every man is Christ,
and the head of the woman is man,
and the head of Christ is God’ (1 Cor 11:3).
In order to understand this verse, we must look at what the word ‘head’ means, as well as its context. Many state that the original Greek, ‘head’ (or kephale) means authority. The implications of this translation are enormous: It would mean that women should not be ordained since they are under man’s authority. However, other translations include ‘source of life,’ which would have very different implications, stripping the verse of any sense of hierarchy between men and women. Scholars have found no one meaning for ‘kephale,’ but the likelihood of it meaning ‘authority’ in this particular passage is slim. Firstly, the frequency of its meaning ‘authority’ in Greek literature is rare, In 2,336 occurrences, Wayne Grudem found only 49 instances of kephale meaning ‘leader,’ just 2.1%. (See Grudem ‘Does Kephale Mean ‘Source’ or ‘Authority Over’ in Greek Literature? In Trinity Journal 6.1)
Secondly, the context of this verse is key. Whilst in isolation it appears to promote an hierarchical order, by examining its context it becomes clear that its purpose is very different. Paul is addressing the Corinthian Church which had an over-realized eschatology, making them ignore gender distinction. (Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians p.502). In ancient times, to shave one’s head as a woman would be to shed one’s beauty, appearing like a boy. Therefore, Paul sought to correct their behaviour by asking women to wear head-coverings in worship, which he called their ‘authority’ (or exousia) (1 Cor 11:10). The only ‘authority’ mentioned here belongs not to men but to women.
Notions of hierarchy are further dispelled by the fact that the woman is described as man’s ‘glory’ (1 Cor 11:7). This is given as the reason why women must wear a head covering, and because ‘man did not come from woman, but woman from man’ (1 Cor 11:8).
It seems then that the word ‘kephale’ here means the ‘source’ or ‘origin’ from which the woman came.
As Christians we have been called to ‘submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,’ (Ephesians 5:21). If women in leadership carry out their responsibilities with self-sacrificial love, then the men they are ministering to will only benefit.
How do you feel about this interpretation of this key passage?
How do you feel about the decision of the General Synod?