(Update, 6/12/06 – for new information on the Winkler case, click here)Â
People continue to read and debate the post I wrote over a week ago about Mary Winkler’s killing of her husband, a Church of Christ minister. If you want to read that post or others, go here, here, and here. In the comments section, people have argued about what the Church of Christ believes or doesn’t believe and what it practices or doesn’t practice. There are strong and passionate feelings both pro and con. For the most part it has been a civilized discussion. I’ve only had to edit one comment that crossed the line.
After reading all the arguments for the submission of women in the COC and the arguments about why they don’t use instrumental music (which probably has more to do with saving money than with any Biblical misunderstanding since they do a LOT of things in their church and services that are not found in the New Testament), I figured it was time to provide some background for my beliefs.
While I disagree with the COC’s interpretation of the Bible, that doesn’t mean I think they are going to Hell. Of course not. I don’t think as a group they are bad people at all. In my experience attending three different COC churches I met some very fine and sincere Christians. God knows our hearts and our intentions and our actions, and I believe he values those much more than which particular church we attend. It is the basic belief in Christ as the son of God and our Savior that is the key – not these other side issues.
However, I DO believe that such rigid and misguided (in my opinion) doctrine attracts men who will misuse that doctrine to justify their abuse of women and children — just as some Catholic priests have misused their position of authority to abuse children. Only Mary Winkler knows why she killed her husband (as she admitted doing). However, something extreme (abuse, her own mental illness, or something) led her to an action that was supposedly totally out of character.
I grew up in a large parsonage family. My father was a minister, and my mother was active in the women’s groups and raising seven children (of which I’m the middle child). She often taught Sunday School and cooked many meals for covered dish suppers. She still puts together a delicious meal for 30 – 50 people with very little notice and with seemingly little effort.
I’ll back up a little to give more background. My father was called to preach when I was a newborn. The call was so strong that he moved our family to Kentucky in order to attend college and then later moved back to Georgia for graduate school to get his Masters of Divinity degree in order to become an ordained minister.
In 1986 my father died after more than 35 years of preaching. He had served in 3-point circuits, small town churches and large churches. At the time he died he was the minister of a small country church – a church that was typically pastored by retired ministers – which was the case with my father.
His death was unexpected, and the church was left without a pastor. A couple weeks after his death, a group of church members came to my mother and asked her if she would be the pastor until another one could be found. There is no one on earth who more sincerely and humbly seeks to do God’s will than my mother. After much prayer, she accepted. Later when the church members asked her to stay on as their minister, she agreed. While pastoring fulltime at that church, she went back to school, finished her bachelors degree (which she had worked on whenever she had a chance to take a course or two over many previous years) and went to Divinity school to get her Masters of Divinity degree and became an ordained minister – all at a time when most people her age were retiring. She was able to pastor several different churches before mandatory retirement at the age of 70 – churches where even the die-hard “women shouldn’t be preachers” members came to the point of supporting her and seeing God’s grace and will lived out daily in her life. After retirement, she became a minister of visitation at a large local church. Even now, at the age of 83, whenever other ministers calls and asks her to preach for them when they’re sick or planning a trip, she always says yes because of her strong calling.
Last fall she began her own blog – Ruthlace - it was there that she wrote a post about women preachers and the place of women in the church. I will exerpt some of it here (actually a LOT of it), but I recommend that you go and read the entire post. It’s long, but it’s detailed and provides wonderful Biblical documentation for her beliefs and mine.
What About Women Preachers
I kept coming back to the subject of what the Bible has to say about women as preachers. My husband who was a pastor used to tell those who came to him for counsel concerning a call to preach, “If the Lord will let you do anythng else, do it.” Becoming a pastor is a glorious joy and privilege but also a never ending task. The demands are staggering.Â
Last year a man who identified himself as a preacher, wrote a letter [to a local newspaper]. . . stating that women preachers violated the clear teachings of Scripture and were a “cancer” on the church. A clear reading of the Bible in context indicates otherwise.ÂÂ
1. Starting in the Genesis of our Bible, Chapter 1, we read all (men and women) are made in the image of God and both men and women are given dominion over the rest of creation: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air …’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female, He created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27)Â
2. When Jesus said, ‘whosoever will’, He did not give a subordinate list for women. . . . The good news of the Gospel is that Jesus liberated (re-created) both men and women. Many New Testament passages show that it was Christ’s intention to reverse the widespread subjugation of women, which began when the cancer of sin (speaking of cancer) entered the world. (Genesis 3).Â In Genesis 3, we read that both man and woman lost the joyful liberty God had given them in creation when they abused that freedom in prideful disobedience. Sadly, God’s intention for mutuality and equality among man and woman went awry. Thus, the image of God became distorted with sin and our world became ‘fallen’ (full of sin). Jesus came to save us from sin. (Matthew 1:21).Â3. In a culture that refused to allow women as teachers, learners, or even as witnesses in court, Jesus assures Martha and Mary sitting at His feet that learning was a good thing (Luke 10:41-42). ‘Sitting at the feet’ of a master is a phrase used for a ‘learner’ or ‘disciple’. It is difficult for our generation to understand the amazing freedom (and grace) Christ’s coming brought to the world of women as well as men. In many of Jesus’ parables, when He used male images and activities, He also used a parallel involving women. . . .Â
4. Jesus allowed women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection. In fact, it was Jesus Himself who told Mary Magdalene to ‘go and tell’. . . .Â
5. Acts 2:17-18: “And it shall come to pass, says God. That I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions. Your old men shall dream dreams. And on My menservants and My maidservants, I will pour out My spirit in those days. And they shall prophesy.” The prophet Joel’s words that women as well as servants will one day prophesy came true at the Pentecost. A prophet can be a foreteller of future events and/or a person gifted in the exposition of divine truth. Since the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, God has imparted His gifts to each person ‘just as He determines’ (I Corinthians 12:11). We do not tell God to whom He can or cannot give any gift, including the gift of preaching. Pentecost represents God’s sanction for prophetic ministry by women as well as men. It is God who calls a person (whether man or woman) to preach. I would never dare to stand behind a sacred pulpit without being sure of God’s call.Â
6. In Galatians 3:22-28 we read: “For we are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:16-28). Paul goes on to say that Christ came to redeem those under the law (Greek, slave, female) that we (all) might receive the full rights of sons (whoever will). The masculine noun (son) and pronoun (he) was used for both genders in the original and so translated into English by Biblical scholars in places when the intent was son/daughter, he/her or children. At other times the gender is specified when read in the original language.Â
7. Paul tells us in I Corinthians that a woman is not to pray or prophesy without a ‘head covering’. This certainly means that if a woman dresses decorously, she can both pray and prophesy. (I Corinthians 11:5) Paul goes on to say, “as a woman came from man, so also man is born of woman.” Both genders were loved and honored equally by God in the decisive events of Creation (Genesis 1:26-27), Incarnation (Matthew 1:21) and Pentecost (Acts 2:17-18).Â
8. All my life I have heard people quote Paul’s words in I Corinthians 14:34, “let your women keep silent in church.” Some incorrectly used this as a proof text to forbid women to preach or teach. In the context of chapter 14, Paul admonishes the women at Corinth to be quiet, not because it is wrong for women to speak out loud in church service. He has just told them they can pray or prophecy as long as they act and dress circumspectly. (I Corinthians 11:5). Paul goes on to explain that “God is not a God of disorder but of peace … everything should be done decently and in order.” (I Corinthians 14:33-40). So untaught women were not to disrupt the service by asking questions out of order. Better these women should ‘ask their husband’ at homeÂ
9. Ephesians 5:22-24 is one of Paul’s five ‘hupotasso’ passages, (I Corinthians 14:34, Colossians 3:18, I Timothy 2:11, Titus 2:5) so named because of the Greek word translated ‘submit’ or ‘submission’. A full discussion of male/female roles would require a careful exegesis of all five passages. The idea of submission was nothing new. These women had been taught ‘submission’ from their mother’s knee. Submission was a part of Jewish life for women since the tragic event of ‘the Fall’ in Genesis 3. What is new? The new is seen as we read the rest of the story. Men are also taught ‘to submit as to the Lord’. Paul, a little more politically correct than Jesus, was careful not to upset the delicate cultural fabric of his day. But Paul was a ‘new creation in Christ’ since he met Jesus on the Damascus road. Paul recognized that ‘submit’ is a good word. So do I. What is new in Paul’s theology is how women are to submit; they are to submit ‘in the Lord’. In fact, Paul requests the same submission of the entire church body at Ephesians. They are all to ‘submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’ (Ephesians 5:21). I Timothy 2:11:12 is another example; “Let a woman learn in silence and submission, in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” In the context, the Corinthian women were speaking so as to create disorder in the worship. It is often said, ‘women like to talk’. Paul is maintaining that untaught women should be taught (manthaneto is imperative). The silence and ‘full submission’ (again to the church body or teacher) is what any teacher would ask of his pupils. A correct rendering of I Timothy 2:11-12 (of the original into English) would be: “I command that women learn (be taught) in quietness and full submission (to the teaching authority). I am (presently) not permitting a woman to teach and she is not to exert evil influence over a man.” Women (or men) who ‘exert evil influence’ are not to teach.Â
10. When we study the whole of Paul’s letters, we realize that the great Apostle Paul was not chauvinistic toward women as some have claimed. It was Paul who referred to Julia as ‘outstanding among the apostles’. It was Paul also who called Phoebe ‘a minister of the church’. Of the 29 people Paul greets in Romans 16, many are women whom he addressed by name, which is contrary to Jewish custom; Phoebe, Tryphosa, Julia, Mary.Â
This passage of scripture definitely tells us that the woman Phoebe was a minister. In Romans 16:1, Paul says, “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a diakomos (translated into English as ‘servant’ only for Phoebe) of the church in Cenchrea.” Paul uses the word, diakomos, a masculine term with no article. When Biblical scholars translated the word ‘diakomos’ into English, they translated it ‘deacon’ (3 times) or ‘minister’ (18 times). Only in the case of our sister Phoebe is it translated from the original into English as ‘servant’. In fact, in Romans 16:1-2, Paul refers to Phoebe as ‘prostatis pollon’, which if addressed to a man would likely be translated into English as ‘ruler of many’….Â
Post Script: People have asked me what Mama thought of women preachers and what my parents would think of me as a pastor. If I may editorialize, I think that where my parents are now (where the scales of tradition and pre-conceived ideas are removed from their eyes — and where the Bible is understood in the original language and all things are clear) they would know that when Jesus said, “Whosoever will”, he had no subordinate list for women.Â
Then we have Jesus Himself telling Mary Magdalene to go and tell the good news of His resurrection to all including the 11 male disciples. Then Jesus telling Martha that Mary had chosen the “good part” of sitting as a disciple at His feet. There are verses in the Bible (and the Bible is our authority) that, if taken independently from other scripture,could make a case both pro and con. I think I have studied them all. That issue would make another whole paper . . . . .Â
I remember also Mama relating to me about a Missionary speaker commenting of the Corinthian passage that says, “Let your women keep silent in church …If they would learn, let them ask their husbands at home.” Mama said that the missionary (a very dedicated male Christian missionary doctor) said that in Paul’s day, women (like children) were not educated and sometimes asked questions out loud in church. According to this missionary, the women in his mission field did the same. They might yell out to their husbands, “John, what did he mean?” This missionary said he often felt like Paul at these kinds of interruptions: “keep your women silent, if they would learn anything, let them ask at home — or at least at break time! ” and let everything be done decently and in order.” (I Cor. 14:40.) In other words, the missionary said, this passage did not mean that women had to keep silent. See Galations 3:28, Luke 8:1-3; Acts 2:17-18; and Romans 16:1 for other relevant passages. If women kept silent in church, silent would also mean not teach,speak, sing, testify, preach or even say hello — or whisper “no” to a noisy child. It simply meant to teach your women (as you teach your children) order and manners in private for public behavior so they will not interrupt the meetings. . . . Ordination is certainly not a women’s rights issue. Ordination is not a right to which any of us is entitled. It is an unmerited call and an unexpected gift of the Lord’s mercy. It is not a call to authority but a call to service.
And now I am finished with the topics of Matthew and Mary Winkler, the beliefs of the Church of Christ, and the submission of women. No matter the reasons behind what Mary Winkler did, it is a tragedy and there are three little girls who will live with this for the rest of their lives. Parents have lost a son, children have lost not only their father but their mother as well, a church has lost its minister, a woman is dealing with having killed her husband, and an extended family has been shaken to its foundation.Â I will keep them all in my thoughts and prayers.Â Perhaps I’ll write about the topic again when the reasons behind the killing are known.Â