Monday, December 12, 2011

Open Letter to Women Desiring to be Pastors

In many respects the modern era brought almost limitless advancement for women; today we are granted choices which are staggering even to our grandmothers. There are few career opportunities from which we're excluded due to our gender, we may decide the number of children to have, whether or not to be married, where to live, and how much education we wish to pursue--the options for us really are endless. In most respects the world is ours, and this can lull us into the belief that we have the right to everything we want, or that to be denied something is an attempt at subjugation. How dare society, culture, or family hold us back, never mind the church! In this climate we are taught to resist tradition, or in the very least treat it with suspicion, after all tradition merely serves as a vestige of the past, a past which insisted women comply with its demands and stipulations, a past which we have been taught robbed women of their freedom. From this vantage point it is difficult to see any restriction placed upon women as meaningful, helpful, or even advantageous. Is the continuing subjugation of women what is in the historic Church's mind when she restricts women from occupying the Office of the Holy Ministry? Is this another blockade which women must breach on the path to freedom?

It is my assumption that any woman who is considering the Office of the Holy Ministry has read Scripture and noted the many women who are granted special recognition by its authors. Scripture does not ignore women, rather it very forthrightly lauds them for their service. We see many examples of strong faithful women throughout the Bible, in its pages we meet Rahab, Sarah, Hannah, Deborah a prophetess and Judge of Israel, Mary Magdelene, Martha, and even Mary, the one chosen to bear our Lord. We note that women stayed by our Lord during His crucifixion, and are later there to witness the resurrection, even telling the apostles the news. Then there are the women, named and unnamed, who supported the ministry of the apostles with their service and their finances. This witness does not stop at Scripture as church history boasts a pantheon of female saints who served the church in countless ways. It is clear that Scripture and church tradition, far from subjugating women, affords them honor. It is also clear that none of these women served as pastors. Despite the special place that our Lord grants to women, He never called one to be an apostle, rather He calls men to feed His sheep.

Did our Lord fail to call women to the Office of the Holy Ministry because He was somehow short-sighted? Did He deny that women were capable of carrying out this weighty task? It seems obvious that women are capable of carrying out the tasks of the ministry--it is not as if we are somehow physically unable to write a sermon, preach it, or administer the sacraments. Women are indeed physically capable of all the tasks with which the ministry is vested, yet this is a form of service which eludes the women of Scripture. The ministry is not like other secular jobs which we may pursue--it is not a matter of our capabilities, it is a matter of our Lord's ordering of creation and indeed His Church. Just as we are unable to become fathers by simply participating in traditional fatherly roles, we may not become pastors simply because we take on the role of pastor. Women would not deny that we aren't given to fatherhood, or that our inability to become fathers can be undone by a mere change in policy, yet we expect Christ's Church, His Bride, to be less stalwart than simple biology. Do we really want that which richly forgives our sins and the sins of all believers to be as fickle as our culture? The order of creation which the Church mimics does not seek to pit women against men, rather it honors diversity by highlighting the distinctions between male and female, along with the gifts and vocations each are afforded.

There are many ways in which women may serve the church, the pastoral ministry is hardly the only vehicle of service available. If we assume that women must be pastors in order to have legitimate service to the church, then we tarnish the service of the women who have gone before us, women who though sinners are extolled in Scripture, and hardly treated as second-class citizens because they failed to achieve the pastoral office. Furthermore, to claim that women must be pastors do we not also submit to a mindset which is astonishingly patriarchal? That is, it assumes that the only valid service to be rendered is that which is given to men. This is akin to stating that fatherhood is the only meaningful parental vocation. Why cannot we simply rejoice in the service which we have been given rather than opining that which we have not been given?

Scripture calls wives to submit to their husbands, but it also calls husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. When we seek to traverse the bounds of gender and creation we deny men the vocations they have been given, we reject their love, and in the name of freedom we simply submit to another form of bondage. Instead of submitting to Christ's authority, and the authority of those men given to preach His Word and administer His sacraments, we wander aimlessly in the wilderness, bereft of the Church, and falling victim to every wind of doctrine. By pursuing ordination women risk following in the footsteps of Eve who doubted God's Word, twisted it to her own ends, and trusted the promise of the serpent—yet another promise of freedom resulting in bondage to sin and death. For these reasons the question of women's ordination cannot be simply an academic issue, or even a secondary issue, as it flies directly in the face of our Lord's institution of the Church. Rather than remaining the ship which saves us from a flood of sin, the church becomes yet another worldly establishment which promises everything and delivers exactly nothing.


  1. Beautiful - so well written. I especially loved, "Do we really want that which richly forgives our sins and the sins of all believers to be as fickle as our culture?" Thanks for sharing your thoughts and blessings on your studies. (My husband recently finished seminary at Concordia St. Louis.) God's peace,
    --Stacye R.

  2. Thank you so much for your kind words and your encouragement!

    Blessed Advent to you and yours Stayce.

  3. A wonderfully written essay. Thanks for posting.

    John Zimmerman
    Normal, IL

  4. So glad I stumbled upon your blog! I wish you would put the link to facebook at the end of each post so I could "share" on FB. I actually discovered your site through a comment on FB!

  5. Very well written in love and gentleness. May I add that I Timothy 3:2 gives the qualifications and includes that a bishop must be the husband of one wife. That is a very clear, direct statement.

  6. >>today we are granted choices which are staggering even to our grandmothers

    Or we are told we have those choices. I imagine the barren, the mother of an "oops" baby, the involuntarily single, the widow, and the girl who wants to be an astronaut but just isn't good at math would contend that our choices are more limited than the world lets on, making their crosses that much heavier.

  7. Well put. Thank you. May we keep it all about Jesus and His order.

  8. Great post. A blessed Christmas to you.