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The Second Reformation, Really?

By John M. Brown

religion, articles, christianity

"God and Women: A Second Reformation Sweeps Christianity" (Time, Nov. 23, 1992). The article on pages 52-58, entitled "The Second Reformation," is a report on what is currently underway in several major Protestant denominations regarding the role of women. All quotes that follow are from the article.

Not since King Henry VIII broke with the papacy 458 years ago has the normally decorous Church of England known such passion as it did last week, when it swept away by a margin of two votes the rule that only men may serve as Anglican priests (p. 53).

According to the report, the Church of England (known in the U.S. as the Episcopal Church) is embroiled in controversy over the role of women. Division is threatened. Already in the United States the Episcopal Church has ordained three women bishops, and so temperatures rise!

Note the reason the Anglican Church will allow women priests. They do not say, "We have examined the Scriptures and find this is as it ought to be." Rather, in a close election (a margin of only two votes) the old prohibition was "swept away." From where, then, comes doctrine and practice? Not from the Scriptures but from politicking to see which "side" can get the most votes. One astute Episcopal lady, saying she would leave in protest, makes this observation:

I have become more and more disillusioned with the Church of England. Its doctrine is doubt, its creed is compromise, and its purpose appears to be ... politics. This was just the last straw (p. 53).

If religion, doctrine, and practice, are no more substantial than what can be "voted in" or "voted out," as the wind blows, then honesty would demand a change in the words of the song, "How Fin-n a Foundation."

Biblically, of course, there is no firm foundation for the Church of England (nor any other human denomination) to begin with. Structures built on sand are destined to collapse!

The story continues that certain Roman Catholic prelates are watching the developments in Anglicanism wondering what the future may hold for them:

Just as interested are the American Catholic bishops gathering in Washington. For nine years they have tried to produce a coherent document on women to straddle the demands of conservatives in Rome and of feminists in the U.S. (p.53).

It is almost with amusement that we watch this evolution. For nine years, the bishops have been engaged in formulating a statement that will appease both sides. What politics! Did they consider following a document that dealt with these matters nearly 2,000 years ago? Regarding the manuscript the bishops are creating, the reporter asserts,

The document has been diluted so thoroughly that reformers hope that the hierarchy will throw it out and start all over (p. 53).

Now that sounds like a great idea! A further suggestion: why not throw out all the creeds, manuals, theories, opinions, disciplines, and traditions of men, and just take the Bible, and it alone, as the only authority in religion? It is a matter of authority: the tide of popular opinion vs. biblical instruction.

Once the authority of God, speaking through the Scriptures, is undermined, all else is being considered:

Then there are issues that go beyond ordination. .... Words to prayers and hymns, cherished since childhood, are changing. Denominations that once would not tolerate divorced ministers now find themselves debating whether to accept avowed lesbian ones. Feminist theologians are searching for new ways of conceiving God himself - or herself - as Mother, Wisdom, Sophia, Goddess (p. 54).

Whew! Can you believe it? You've come a long way, baby!(?)!

The Church of England, the Episcopal Church, the Catholics, various Baptist groups, and others have had a vitriolic debate, dissension, and division over the role of women in the church.

Great pressure has been, and is being, put on various denominational leaders to change practices and adjust doctrines to fit various feminist groups. Thus, it becomes not a matter of "the faith" but whatever is popular, or desired, at any particular moment in time. Whichever side has greater political ability and arm-twisting skill can alter the practices to their own ends. One lady, who was a Catholic nun but wanted to "do more," decided to leave her Catholic vocation and become a Methodist minister. The article reports that she misses her Catholicism, but to be a minister was "her dream." So, her recourse was to find the "church of her choice" that would adapt to her wishes. Is the doctrine of Christ that unstable?

Some are saying that the Bible is chauvinistic; Paul is a woman-hater; the church simply reflects the antifeminist attitudes of earlier cultures. To modernize, the church must rid itself of any archaic female prohibition. Even the Pope, considered a Catholic traditionalist, has attempted to oblige, according to the article:

Examining Genesis, the Pope blames Adam and Eve equally for original sin, and says the famous curse 'your husband ... shall rule over you' is not God's will but evidence of humanity's fall into the sinful state. The Pope also declares that in marriage husbands and wives must be in equal submission to each other (p. 58).

In the same modem theology, God must not be male ("Father"); there must be no differences made between the sexes. There must be no restrictions placed upon women in their public role in the church. What does the Bible say?

In I Timothy 2:11-15, Paul writes:

Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.

Let us note first what Paul prohibits. The woman is not to teach nor exercise authority over the man but to learn in silence with subjection. Silence is from the Greek word, hesuchia, meaning "quiet, tranquil" (Thayer) or "causing no disturbance, quiet, peaceable" (Vine's). Subjection is from the Greek word, hupotage, meaning "to arrange under ... to subject oneself'(Thayer). The woman is not to teach nor have authority over the man.

God's instruction regarding leadership is: Woman is not to have the authority over the man in the realm of the church or the home, for that matter (Eph. 5).

Notice the reason for the prohibition (Gen. 3: 1 19). To the woman God said, "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee" (Gen. 3:16).

Because of sin, God placed a curse upon the serpent, the man, and the woman. The woman would not be the leader in God's spiritual arrangement. In what Paul says about the woman's not taking the leadership in the church, he appeals not to culture but to the Garden of Eden - all the way back to the beginning.

We properly understand that the guilt of sin cannot be passed from one generation to the next; sin is not inherited. That is Calvinism and is as false as can be. An innocent party can experience the consequences of sin. Suppose that I murder you. Do you bear the guilt of my action, that is, are you guilty of murder? Of course not! But, would you bear any of the consequences of my action? You would be dead!

No man today bears the guilt of Adam's sin. For consequences, we must labor for our living and die physically, because of Adam's sin (Gen. 3:17-19; 1 Cor. 15:22). For consequences, ladies, God says there will be pain in child-bearing, and your husband shall rule over you (Gen. 3:16). It is a curse because of sin.

Notice again: Paul's prohibitions have not a thing on earth to do with superiority, spirituality, or culture. He goes back to Adam and Eve and speaks of the transgression. Regarding I Timothy 2:12 and I Corinthians 14:34, the article from which we have been quoting reports,

A sizable body of (Protestant) leaders hold that the commands were not universal, but related to specific first-century situations (p. 55).

Wrong! Paul appeals not to culture nor tradition, but to God's order because of his curse on humankind! It is God's arrangement, not Paul's culture or Moses'.

A reverent understanding of, and respect for, the Scriptures will forever keep godly women from assuming authority over men in God's sacred order. We will never have problems over this matter in the Lord's church as long as we follow Jehovah's standard.

Published July 1993