Monday, February 15, 2010


I just finished reading this post, entitled "Why women cannot be head pastors", by C. Michael Patton, whose insights I usually find spot on.

However, I must disagree with his argument on this one, for the simple reason that it's not rooted in anything but a generalization, as several of the egalitarians, and a couple of the complementarians even, have pointed out in the comments (to his post, not this one — as of the time of writing at least).

I am a complementarian as well, and as such it pains me to see this kind of argument being offered, because of it's weakness. Since it comes from someone who normally offers great insights, my fear is that people will get the impression, as one commenter did, that this is the best complementarians have to offer.

EDIT 2/16/2010 10:33PM PST: Mr. Patton has clarified that he was not making an argument for complementarianism, but rather speculating on God's reason for the design, assuming it's true. However, I believe this post speaks to that as well.

So what do I have to offer better? Well, in this case not I, but the Eastern Orthodox Church. (One might hope they would, since they are about at patriarchal a hierarchy as one will find anywhere!) I am particularly enthusiastic about this explanation, because it is not rooted in opinion, or subjectivity. It is an argument from theology, clearly backed by Scripture.

As a preface, I offer the following:
  • This is a long post; but if you hang in there to the end, I think you'll find it rewarding.
  • The following quotes come from the book, The Faith: An Orthodox Catechism, by Mr. Clark Carlton, a convert to Orthodoxy, previously Southern Baptist. In particular, they come from the Special Study entitled "God and Gender", found at the end of the chapter "The Mystery of Love."
  • The running commentary is mine. :)
  • All emphases are in the original, unless otherwise noted.

Ok, now that that's done, let's get started.

Few issues are as explosive in our society as those involving gender and religion.

Well, we're off to a good and obvious start. :) Moving on...

The Orthodox Christian addresses these issues within the framework of the Church's self-understanding as the Bride of Christ. Whether the issue at hand is "inclusive language," the role of women in the Church, or homosexual desire, the answer lies in the great mystery: Christ and the Church.

Well, that's a new angle! No, seriously, I'd never seen anyone come at it from this angle before. And to lump having women pastors together with homosexuality? Well, this is either going to be really good or really rubbish. Let's find out...

The peoples of the ancient world frequently worshipped[sic] female deities, accepted priestesses, and thought nothing of homosexual behavior. Israel, however, stood alone in rejecting all of these practices. The reason for this lies in God's revelation of Himself as being radically distinct from His creation.

We have said that the world was created ex nihilo [this was covered in an earlier chapter]. Between the being of God and the being of the world there is an irreducible gulf. The world is not God, has never been God, and will never be God. The fact that God has united creation to Himself in the Incarnation in no way destroys the distinction between the Uncreated and the created. In Christ we participate in the uncreated grace of God, becoming by that grace what He is by nature, yet we never cease being creatures; our created nature is never transformed into the divine nature.

Ok, he's saying is that there is a huge difference between us and God. While it is true that through Christ we are partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:4), we have not been, are not, and never will be "transformed into the divine nature." That is to say, none of us will ever "have life in himself" (John 5:26); we will always be created, contingent beings. This is the the difference between God and His Creation.

Once again, I'm encouraged by the obvious nature of his propositions. Hopefully, he'll keep it up...

This difference between God and the world is expressed iconically by the disexuality of human nature. In the Divine Scriptures, God is always represented by the male and creation by the female.

STOP!!! Or rather, don't stop. Reading that is. Before you point out that female imagery is sometimes used to refer to God (e.g. "as a mother hen", and others), etc. — don't worry: he's getting to that.

Remember, he said at the beginning of the study that this is in relation to the Church's "self-understanding as the Bride of Christ." This becomes immediately apparent with the next sentence.

God is the Bridegroom, and the world — or more precisely, the Church, which is the world recreated in Christ — is the Bride.

Go back and read that sentence again, since it is foundational to the whole argument. Got it? Ok, let's keep going.

Here's the part where he caveats about the female imagery:

God, of course, is neither male nor female; He is beyond all such created concepts. Nevertheless, He has given us certain images and concepts whereby we have come to know Him. Though these concepts can never fully describe or define the indescribable God, we are nonetheless bound by them.

It is true that the Scriptures occasionally use female imagery in regard to God. For example Christ said of Jerusalem: O Jerusalem, Jerusalem . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chicken under her wings, and ye would not (Matthew 23:27). This is, however, a simile. Christ called God "Father," not "Mother." Christ is the "Son" of God, not the "Daughter" of God.

Now is where it start really getting powerful. However, he commits a whole paragraph to "inclusive" language. This paragraph is well-written, but not apropos to the discussion at hand, so I'll skip it. Moving on, we find:

From this [i.e. the iconic relationship of God/male and Creation/female] it should be evident why it is impossible for the Church to have priestesses [or female pastors]. The male, because he is a creature, can represent God only iconically. The female, however, is creation. The Church is essentially female.

Even though it's in the middle of a paragraph, I'll pause for you to re-read that last sentence, and absorb it.

Ok, ready to continue?

If, therefore, the priest — who is the image of Christ the Bridegroom — is a female, then what happens to the male principle? ...[T]he distinction between Creator and creation is destroyed, and a new religion is born.

Wait, what?

"[T]he the image of Christ"? Since when? Phrased this way, this statement seems to espouse a distinctively non-Protestant doctrine. Well, let me explain. First off, for those of you worried that he is advocating popish dogma — he is not. In the Orthodox tradition, the priest is not viewed as the "vicar" of Christ — that doctrine is (rightly) viewed as a Roman heresy.

But as I said, the statement, when phrased this way, can be confusing to the non-Orthodox. Let me elucidate:

Even in Protestant circles, the pastor is viewed as the under-shepherd to the One Shepherd. In the same manner, the pastor, as the visible leader of the assembly, is viewed as "head" (distinctly lowercase "h") of the church (distinctly lowercase "c") he leads.

So is the priest/pastor Christ? No. Most emphatically not. But does his role in the service mirror and symbolize that of Christ? Yes. I have heard many times in various Baptist churches that in Heaven, the departed saints are "doing church" at the same time we are, and Christ Himself is the Pastor. (This is also a very Orthodox teaching, even if the Baptists do not realize it. :))

The logical implication, if they would care to think about it, is that the pastor in the earthly church service is the "placeholder" for Christ in the heavenly one. He is "image", however imperfect, of the One Head of the Church.

Most Protestants will better understand this when stated symbolically, instead of iconographically; but the concept is the same.

Putting this understanding back into Orthodox parlance, we get, "the the image of Christ the Bridgegroom."

Now that we've got that under our belt, let's continue. I'll back up a little to get us back in the flow:

If the priest[/pastor] a female...the distinction between Creator and creation is destroyed, and a new religion is born. Actually, it is an old religion that is reborn — the religion of pantheism, which Israel and the Church rejected.

The last two paragraphs of the Study apply the argument against homosexuality, and so are not relevant to this discussion (although they are, IMHO, brilliant in their own right).

So we see from this that the Church understands herself as inherently female. To have a female head of the assembly, or even a plurality of heads which included some females, would destroy the imagery that is so clear in the Bible, actually recreating ancient paganism in it's place.

I would like to point out, from Scripture, some additional supports to this argument.

First, the apostle Paul's exhortation to the Ephesians (5:22ff) clearly spells out this understanding of the Church as inherently female. It also applies this imagery to the marriage relationship.

For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church...

(This, by the way, is one reason [among others] why homosexuality is wrong, and homosexual "marriage" also: it destroys this imagery. But I digress.)

It is to this relationship and imagery that Paul is referring in his letter to Timothy, which is the passage mentioned by Mr. Patton in his blog post: 1 Tim. 2:11-15.

Paul's support for his instruction is not that women are not able to be aggressive in confronting heresy. One could, I suppose, make the argument that, since Adam was not deceived, and Eve was, men are somehow better at spotting heresy.

But "one" would be wrong; Adam did not confront the heresy at all, but rather actively succumbed to it. He just did it with his eyes wide open.

Paul's statement that the woman "was in the transgression" is not to say that Adam was not. In fact, "death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them that had not sinned after the similitude of Adam's transgression," (Rom. 5:14, emphasis mine).

Rather, he is pointing to two things: first, the headship of the husband ("For Adam was first formed, then Eve."), which we have already asserted, and secondly, the headship of the second Adam (Christ [1 Cor. 15:22, 45]) over the second Eve (the Church).

How so?

The first Adam actively transgressed, and the first Eve "being deceived was [also] in the transgression." But the second Adam never transgressed. And if the second Eve looks to her Head for direction, (as the first Eve did not) and not to the other created beings and things (as the first Eve did), she will not be deceived, and will not transgress.

This understanding is also the crux of Paul's argument in 1 Cor. 11:2-10. But this post is already too long, so I will leave that one for now. ("Whoso readeth, let him understand.")

So, to borrow a phrase from Solomon: "Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter," which I believe I have shown to be fully supported by Scripture.

For an assembly to set up a female leader for itself is for that church to to blur the distinction of God and His creation; or rather, to obliterate it! Even worse, they deny the imagery of Christ/male/head-Church/female/body, and also lose the visual reminder of their protection in Christ, the Reality to Whom the image points.

And that is why I believe we ought not have women pastors — not because men are more aggressive.