Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Praising Deaconesses

Philip. 4:1-3 (ESV)
Therefore, my brothers, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.
[2] I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. [3] Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

It is funny that Paul should be thought of as a misogynist who just didn’t like women. In many places he praises them profusely. Yes, he is the one who uttered the oracles of God banning women from the pastoral office, telling them to be silent in the churches, forbidding them to teach or have authority over men, and admonishing them to be submissive to their husbands. However he did not ban them from working in the church, or for the church.
There are a couple things that should be addressed here. 1. The verses banning women from the public preaching office are not verses bowing to cultural sensitivities of the time. 2. The verses banning women from the public preaching office pertain only to that of pastor, and preaching within congregational worship.
I hear the first one often, that Paul was merely acquiescing to current cultural sensitivities when he wrote that women should remain silent in the churches, or should not teach or have authority over men. I think only one very ignorant of classical culture could hold to that argument. Actually it was quite the opposite. No doubt the Corinthians thought they were being quite egalitarian letting women stand up and spout off in church. Spouting off might be discouraged for both men and women. This is why Paul appointed elders wherever he went. So that there was someone educated to teach and speak. But I doubt the Corinthians batted an eye at this sort of behavior. It may have offended a couple of the Jews who may have been part of the congregation. But it certainly did not offend the majority of the congregation, or the general populace of Corinth, or even the Roman Empire. Greeks and Romans were quite used to seeking out women to deal with religious problems. The empire was rife with priestesses, and not only in the brothels that passed for pagan temples. Women were also sought after for fortune telling: “As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling.” Acts 16:16 (ESV) Classical literature also reveals the commonality of women sorcerers in ancient Greece, and Rome. In fact I would find it odd to see a male gypsy plying this trade today. It certainly would not have seemed odd for the Roman visiting the Corinthian Church to find a woman speaking out of an esoteric trance as described in much of 1 Corinthians 14.
The second point needs to be addressed also. Today in the Missouri Synod you find many people suspicious of the deaconess program. It is repeatedly questioned on many blogs. Perhaps some of this is understandable given the push for women’s ordination that seems to ever be knocking in this culture. There is a paranoia about this that even leads people to question the integrity of great men like Bishop Vanags of Latvia. This man put an end to women’s ordination in Latvia, but judiciously allowed those already ordained to stay on the pay roll. And for allowing a few women to walk around in obscure Latvian villages with a collar, he is questioned. Enough people. Enough with the paranoia. There is nothing wrong with women wanting to work in the Church. And just as in Paul’s day there is plenty for them to do. There is plenty more to Church work than the sermon on Sunday morning. One of the things that the late Bishop Bo Giertz mourned with the advent of Women’s Ordination in his beloved Church of Sweden was that women were no longer allowed to serve God and His church in a manner proper to their gender, but were forced into the pastoral office if they wanted to serve at all. This stalwart opponent of women’s ordination longed for the resurrection of the office of deaconess. Missouri Synod has every reason to be proud of its deaconesses, and the resurrection of that office in our midst. Lets take a cue from Paul and praise them.

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