By Hermes C. Fernandes
Taking advantage of the month in which International Women’s Day is celebrated, I decided to write an article on a very controversial topic. Respecting the dissenters, I want to explain here the reasons why I defend female ordination, both to the pastorate and to the diaconate.
1 – In Christ, ethnic, social and sexist distinctions end
“In this there is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither servant nor free; there is neither male nor female; because you are all one in Christ Jesus. ” Galatians 3:28
If God can include Jews and Gentiles in the ministry, why shouldn’t He include both men and women? If we are to maintain the distinction between sexes, we should also maintain the distinction between days, months, years, between Jews and Gentiles, between clean and unclean animals, etc.
2 – Pastoral activity is, above all, a gift – The argument used by Peter to justify the inclusion of Gentiles in the church was the gift of the Spirit that was given to them in the same way as to the Jews. How could the apostles prevent their inclusion? Similarly, the church must recognize the pastoral gift that has been bestowed on women. Ordering is nothing more than recognizing the gift. To refuse to recognize the gift given by God is the same as resisting God. Check out:
“So if God gave them the same gift as us, when we had believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I then, that I might resist God? And when they heard these things, they were appeased, and glorified God, saying, Verily even the Gentiles gave God repentance for life. ” Acts 11: 17-18
If today’s leaders recognized the pastoral gift that God has given women, all discussion would cease. Some, even recognizing the gift, deny the title. Some denominations prefer to call them ‘missionaries’, ‘doctors’, but never ‘pastors’. It is ridiculous. On the other hand, we find many men who bear the title without ever having been dedicated to the performance of the pastorate. Pathetic and pitiful.
3 – The Gift of Prophecy is given to both men and women
“And it will be that afterwards I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will have dreams, your young people will have visions. I will also pour out my Spirit on servants and servants in those days. ” Joel 2: 28-29
According to Peter’s speech on the day of Pentecost, this prophecy was fully fulfilled when the Spirit was profusely poured out on the 120 disciples gathered in the upper room. Now, if women are to remain silent in the church, as some Pauline instruction interprets, then how could they prophesy? Why sign language? We read in Acts 21: 8-9 that Philip, one of the original seven deacons, also recognized as an evangelist, had four daughters who prophesied. And what would it be to “prophesy” within the New Testament context? Paul replies: “He who prophesies speaks to men, for edification, exhortation, and consolation” (1 Corinthians 14: 3). Those who are against the ordination of women say that the exercise of the gift of prophecy is linked to pastoral activity. The pastor is the prophet of the church. Through preaching, he builds, exhorts, and consoles. Now, now… Following the same line of reasoning, a woman who has received such a gift from God would be empowered by the Spirit to exercise pastoral ministry.
4 – The universal priesthood of believers
One might argue that although we find prophets in the Scriptures, we never find priestesses. But wait … doesn’t Christ replace the Levitical priesthood with an eternal one, where we are all equally priests?
“You too, like living stones, are built a spiritual house and a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices pleasing to God through Jesus Christ… But you are the chosen generation, the royal priesthood, the holy nation, the acquired people, announce the virtues of him who called you from darkness to his wonderful light. ” 1 Peter 2: 5,9
This is one of the pillars of Protestant reform. All believers are priests, regardless of gender. Maintaining the distinction between clergy and laity is undesirable rancidity that we inherited from Romanism. And as priests, we have two duties: a) offering spiritual sacrifices to God b) announcing the virtues of the One who called us from darkness to light. Men and women are equally tasked with this. Now, why should we deprive women of celebrating the sacraments/ordinances (Read Supper and Baptism)? I know denominations in which women can teach, preach, work in the office, evangelize, but they cannot celebrate supper or baptism. This does not make any sense. Whoever is able to announce the virtues of the living God and to offer spiritual sacrifices is also able to break bread and baptize. Matter of coherence. The problem is that men do not want to give up prominence. During the celebration of the first Eucharist, Jesus undressed before the disciples, girded Himself with a towel, and washed their feet. Some understand that the foot-washing would be a complementary ceremony to the Lord’s Supper. Even though we do not see it as an ordinance, we cannot overlook the fact that it was during the Supper that He gave us such an example. Writing to Timothy, Paul says that before enrolling a widow to be helped by the church, one should check if she has done all the good work, including washing the feet of the saints (1 Tim. 5:10). By this time, washing the brothers’ feet had become a constant practice in the church. Jesus had left the example to His male disciples, but even women watched it. This was part of Diakonia,
5 – It was to a woman that Jesus entrusted the first “ide” after His resurrection
Jesus could have appeared first to His male disciples, but He chose to appear first to a woman, to whom He entrusted His first “go” (John 20:20). It is possible that the disciples felt disgraced by this. – Why a woman, and not directly to us? Perhaps this indicated the importance that Jesus attributed to the female gender in spreading the Gospel.
6 – There is evidence that there was female leadership in the early church
“I recommend our sister Febe, a servant of the church in Cencrea. I ask that you receive it in the Lord, worthy of the saints, and give you the help that you may need; because it has been of great help to many people, including me. Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my collaborators in Christ Jesus. They risked their lives for me. I am grateful to them; not just me, but all the Gentile churches. Also greet the church that meets at their home. Greet my beloved brother Epénetus, who was the first convert to Christ in the province of Asia. Greet Maria, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who were in prison with me. They are notable among the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. ” Romans 16: 1-7
How much valuable information in a simple greeting! In the original text, Phoebe is called “deaconess in the church in Center”. According to the testimony of the patristic author Teodoreto de Ciro (393 – 466 AD), Phoebe was an itinerant preacher whose fame spread throughout the world. “She was known not only to the Greeks and Romans but to barbarians as well.” And Phoebe was not the only one. A tombstone was found in 1903 on the Mount of Olives with this inscription: “Here lies the servant and virgin bride of Christ, Sofia, the deaconess, the second Phoebe”. This shows that Phoebe became a kind of reference for female leadership in the early church.
In his recommendation, Paul testifies that Phoebe would have been a great help to many people, including himself. The original text provides us with a slightly more accurate understanding: “Because she has been nominated, really by my own action, as an officer presiding over many.”
The term translated “help” is prostatitis (Rom. 16: 2). This word is not translated in this way anywhere else in the Greek Scriptures. It was a common and classic word that meant “patron or protector, a woman placed on top of others”. It is the feminine form of the masculine noun prostates, which means “defender” or “guardian” when referring to men. In 1 Timothy 3: 4-5,12 and 5:17, the verb proistemi it is used regarding the qualifications of bishops and deacons when Paul ordered men to “govern” their homes well, which included looking after their needs. Whatever it meant for men, it must mean the same for women. What these bishops and deacons did for their homes, Phoebe did for the church and Paul. The positions were identical.
If we refuse to admit that Phoebe “ruled”, or “led”, or was a “defender”, or “guardian”, then we need to lower deacons to whatever level Phoebe was ministering to. If Phoebe only “helped”, then that is all deacons did. It would be very inconsistent to translate the word “governor” when referring to men and “aid” when referring to women.
Among those who receive the Pauline greeting, Priscilla and Aquila stand out, responsible for teaching the Gospel more precisely to Apollo, one of the most eloquent preachers of the time. Paul purposely mentions Priscilla before Aquila, which might have sounded unkind, to indicate his ministerial importance. A little further on, Paul reveals two curious characters, namely, Andronicus and Junias, “notable among the apostles”. If, in fact, both husband and wife were considered “apostles,” there is no room for arguing about the legitimacy of female leadership in the early church.
7 – Because the female ability to exercise any role previously attributed only to men is proven
I have witnessed the striking success achieved by women in the exercise of the pastoral ministry. Some have succeeded where men have failed. I could cite several cases to my knowledge. After all the achievements of women in the second half of the twentieth century, it would be, at the very least, anachronistic to believe in their incompetence for ecclesiastical leadership. Long before the cultural revolution, in biblical times they already demonstrated their skills as queens, judges, prophets, and, by the way, even pastors. See Ester, Débora, Ana, and Raquel. Why would God deprive them of the privilege of being instruments of His love to care for His private flock?