Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Paul's Appreciation for the Work of Women in the Church

3 Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, 4 who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. 5 Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert [2] to Christ in Asia. 6 Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. 7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, [3] my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, [4] and they were in Christ before me. 8 Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. 9 Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers [5] who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them. 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. (Romans 16:3-16 (ESV)
I once introduced my parents at a school function as Mr. and Mrs. Connie and John Erickson. It got a few laughs though mostly it was just due to a little junior high nervousness.  Of course, my dad’s title is not Mr. any more than it is Mrs. Though Mr. would be more appropriate. I suppose though the most peculiar thing that made the people laugh was me mentioning my mom before my dad. Generally speaking, the husband is named first. This was true in the first century also. That is what makes the eyebrow rise when you read the opening to this section. Prisca, also known as Priscilla, is mentioned before Aquila.
I’ll confess, perhaps it is just the “a” at the end of the name, but Aquila sounds like a woman’s name to me. So if it wasn’t for a high-school sweetheart named Priscilla, I’d have a hard time remembering which one was which. I’ve never met anyone named Aquila, but he always comes in second place when their names are mentioned in scripture. Paul seemed to hold Priscilla in a bit higher regard than he did Aquilla, both of whom he worked with. Priscilla seems to have been somewhat a firecracker. It seems as if Aquila did the work of making tents with Paul, and Prisca did the work of evangelism while the men were busy. We know for instance that it was Priscilla who took Apollos aside to instruct him where he was lacking in knowledge of the faith. Yes, she taught a man. Not during the divine service, but privately took it upon herself to correct him and instruct him where he was lacking. Paul praised her highly for her work.
Today it is all too common for people to say that Paul was a woman hater. This largely stems from his prohibitions against women holding the office we call pastor. And yet, everywhere one turns in the New Testament Paul is praising the work of women, and is getting support from women. His ministry would not have been possible if the women of his generation thought he was a woman hater. It seems it was precisely women who made it happen with their money, and their help in other matters. And it would have been easy at that time to ignore their contributions. These women don’t strike me as the type that would be offended for not having the spotlight shown on them. But perhaps it was because he appreciated women so much that so many women joined the faith. In this he also followed the example of Jesus, who though his inner circle of twelve were men, also had many women disciples and found occasion to praise them and speak well of them. As Bo Giertz points out, the only reasonable conclusion as to why Paul forbade women the office of pastor, given all his appreciation and support for the work of women, and a society that was familiar with women in the role of priest, was that he had a command from the Lord and the law of God. Bo Giertz was one who could understand that.
It’s an odd thing. Paul today is often maligned for that position. Bo Giertz himself was marginalized during his lifetime for taking Paul’s stand, and even today I find that people appreciate Bo Giertz when he speaks on the gospel, but often his position on women in the ministry is completely ignored, or often keeps a person from reading anything else he wrote. He too is often called a woman hater, and yet when I read his writings I’m struck as to how much he appreciated the contributions of women to the church. I would also add that he had no phobia of women pastors. He could even be appreciative of their work. He admonished those for whom he was influential to always treat them with respect and honor even if they didn’t agree that women should be pastors.
Today the LCMS as a whole runs into the same sorts of problems. I read a report a few years ago showing that the LCMS actually employs more women than any other church body. We have women holding almost every position conceivable save one, the office of pastor. And quite frankly the whole church would collapse if women weren’t doing what they would do. But then the church would collapse in another manner if it allowed women into the role of pastor. Once you compromise on the word of God there….
I do think though that there are many in the office of pastor who could take to heart the admonitions of Bo Giertz when it comes to interacting with those that want women’s ordination. We might praise the work of deaconesses and look for every opportunity to include them in the work of the church where we can in good conscience and not regard them as wannabe pastors, I don’t actually know any that are. We do much better to treat even those we disagree with on these matters as children for whom Christ died deserving of his love and respect. 

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