Proper question not ‘ordination’ but ‘calling’
    March 12 2009 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

    MOUNT OLIVE — Asking whether women should be ordained to the ministry is the wrong question according to Baptist professor Curtis Freeman.

    “The question is, ‘Who is being gifted in the church?’” said Freeman, professor of historical theology and director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School. “Where are those gifts being displayed?”

    Freeman was guest lecturer at Mount Olive College’s Vivian B. Harrison Memorial Lecture March 10 with the theme, “And Your Daughters Shall Prophecy: Women’s Voices in the Church.” He also preached during the school’s chapel service that day.

    Freeman said ordination doesn’t give one the gift of preaching. Ordination is instead the church recognizing that gift, he said.

    “The point is the church doesn’t really call people into ministry,” he said. “We help people discern God’s call on their life.”

    BR photo by Steve DeVane

    Curtis Freeman talks with a woman after his lecture at Mount Olive College. Freeman is professor of historical theology and director of the Baptist House of Studies at Duke Divinity School.

    The lectures included an overview of four 17th century Baptist women who wrote about their experiences. They were among nine known Baptists and 38 others who were writers in that period. In all, about 300 total prophetesses were active in England between 1640 and 1660, Freeman said.

    The four Baptist women wrote at least 748 pages of material, many in pamphlets, which were cheaply reproduced and available to a wide audience.

    “The pamphlet was like the 17th century Internet,” Freeman said.

    Historical records indicate that the women influenced early English General and Particular Baptists, according to Freeman.

    “Through their writings they surely attained an even wider audience,” he said. “Yet there was also a tension between the prophetic voices of these women, the gathered churches and the wider society that eventually refused to swallow their prophetic pill.”

    Freeman said that revolutionary forces in England at the time had destabilized power and forces that “long had kept women in their place.”

    “The social spaces that opened up enabled women not just to think freely but to speak their minds freely,” he said. “Yet as the Baptist movement became organized and institutionalized many of the more egalitarian expressions of the early days dissipated.”

    These and other women who spoke out were on the fringes of the early Baptist churches, Freeman said.

    “Maybe these women standing on the edge see something those of us at the center of the church can’t see,” he said.

    Freeman said women have found a space to share their voices during other periods of social upheaval, such as the American Revolution, the western frontier and the Equal Rights Amendment issue. He asked if churches could find a way to create such a space without waiting for culture to create it.

    Freeman used the story of the first woman ordained by a Southern Baptist church to suggest three essential elements of discernment used by the church. Addie Davis was ordained by Watts Street Baptist Church in Durham on Aug. 9, 1964.

    The church was “committed to the practice of calling out the called,” Freeman said. Such a call includes both inward discernment and outward confirmation, he said.

    “It’s not about women in ministry,” he said. “It’s first about this principle of calling.”

    The second conviction of Watts Street church was what Freeman called “openness to more light from the Word.” For many the issue of women in ministry is settled, one way or the other. But others remain searching and open.

    “It’s a sense that our understanding is growing,” he said.

    Freeman said Watts Street was also committed to stand together with others under the rule of Christ. An ordination council from the local association examined Davis.

    “Because a local congregation stands under the immediate rule of Christ, it has the power to call its own ministers, celebrate the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and administer the keys of church discipline,” he said. “Yet no congregation is independent. It is interdependent with those who ‘walk by the same rule.’”

    Freeman said this is a “hard word,” since all Baptists don’t agree.

    “Sometimes I’d like it to be me and Jesus, but in the end I don’t think that’s the way it is,” he said.

    The challenge of standing together will take patience and humility, Freeman said.

    “It is the vector of the Baptist vision that suggests that we find our way together,” he said. “Ultimately, it is not a matter of gender or ordination, but of spiritual discernment.”
     

    3/12/2009 11:09:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 11 comments




Comments
Tony Watts
thanks for the correction Artist28147. I know what it is, of course. I do like your implications: lol.

Rev Mike, i will give my hermeneutic away here to be sure; but Deborah was a Judge of Israel and not a member of the church.

The next time I check this post, Artist2814755679325r98 (oops, got carried away there) will tell me that I am supposed to capitalize i when I use the personal pronoun. lol

Tony
3/16/2009 5:54:52 PM

Artist28174
It's "canon," not cannon. But then, given the way you guys use Scripture, cannon may be more appropriate.
3/16/2009 9:25:50 AM

Rev Mike Williams
Tony, You make an excellent point and I would agree that if a person is living a life incompatible with God's teaching, then I would agree that we have a responsibility to call them on it in the manner prescribed in Scripture. I also believe God does not contradict Himself and with respect to women in ministry God called Deborah to lead His chosen people, the entire nation of Israel, and led them into battle. There are many other instances of women being used to accomplish His will and I do not believe today would be any different. Thanks for your reply.
3/14/2009 9:29:17 PM

Tony Watts


Rev. Mike, You said, "God is the Creator and as His creation, He can do with us as He desires and call us according to His purpose. I do consider myself conservative but I do not believe God has given me or any other human the authority to tell anyone they have not been called to accomplish His purpose no matter the calling."

First, let me say that i agree with you to some extent. God can call as he wills but his will is expresed first and foremost inhis written word which, by the way, he will not contradict.

Second, I have every right to say that God hasn't called someone if that same someones claim contradicts teh written word. That is the "subjectivism" to which the modern church has fallen. God has spoken on such matters rather clearly.

Since said God has not given "me or any other human the authority to tell anyone they have not been called to accomplish His purpose no matter the calling." You mention two important things here but the one i want to mention is as follows: No one has the authority to tell [u][b]anyone[/b][/u] You mention the all inclusive "anyone" and that "anyone" could be a professing Homosexual "pastor." By your own argument we can't deny teh "gay pastor" his calling either. The call of God is never contradictory to his written word.
3/13/2009 8:50:10 PM

Rev Mike Williams
When I studied Paul and his letters in college, there was a reason Paul did not mention women in the qualifications for leadership within the church. During his period, Romans had their temple priestesses who were nothing more than temple prostitutes and Paul did not want Christ and His church associated with such practices. There were many instances God used women to accomplish His purposes. God is the Creator and as His creation, He can do with us as He desires and call us according to His purpose. I do consider myself conservative but I do not believe God has given me or any other human the authority to tell anyone they have not been called to accomplish His purpose no matter the calling.
3/13/2009 6:24:39 PM

Tim Marsh
Tony,

Thank you for the response. Your comments are directed toward what I am also against in more liberally moderate circles - that women may serve in ordained capacities regardless of what scripture says. That women may serve in ordained capacities and that it is not necessary to provide readings of scripture as a whole for such a practice.

However, my question is for conservatives is whether or not God did limit ordained capacities in the church to men only. That is thrust of Dr. Willingham's argument that I happen to agree with. Did Paul intend with texts such as 1 Tim 2.9-15 (along with other texts) to forbid women from ordained ministry forever?

To put it in your terms: "is that what scripture actually reveals?" What was the context of such scriptures? The historical backgrounds? The situation Paul was addressing?

No new revelation is acceptable, yet new readings of the old, old story are possible based on new information about the backgrounds of such texts. I think Dr. Willingham would agree? I know Martin Luther did (Rom. 1:16-17 started the Reformation).
3/13/2009 5:39:56 PM

Tony Watts
Tim,

You said, "The question for conservatives is "Did God for all times and all places forbid women to serve in ordained capacities within the church?"

I would answer for the duration of the church age. It is the only revelation we have on the matter - a complete and closed cannon in fact. Are you suggesting that some rival revelation is possible or that we at some other time or place have the right to ignore the revelation already given?

No allegation. Your question just seems a little odd.

Tony


Dr. James,
Are you suggesting that God could possibly "call" someone contrary to the guidelines in his word?

Tony

3/13/2009 4:59:33 PM

Curtis Freeman
Thanks for the note about elderesses Dr. James. Actually the second lecture dealt with 18th-19th century Baptist women in the South. Elderesses, according to Morgan Edwards, on whom many of the reports are based, ministered among women. The more interesting group of women among the Separate Baptists were the exhorters. I found several instances in journals, etc. where what these women did was hardly distinguishable from preaching. In fact this was one reason that the Regular Baptists viewed Separates as "disorderly" in the mid 18th century. After the union of Regulars and Separates, however, Baptists in the South that became "missionary" (later "Southern") Baptists, grew more "regularized" and the role of prophetic women was pushed to the margins. Free Will Baptists, ironically called and ordained women ministers beginning in the 1870s, though they have since the 1970s done so infrequently.
3/13/2009 4:27:29 PM

Tim Marsh
The question for conservatives is "Did God for all times and all places forbid women to serve in ordained capacities within the church?"

The question for moderates is "Is my belief in the calling and equipping of women for ministry based upon my understanding and interpretation of scripture, or upon a rejection of certain, pertinent texts?"

Dr. Willingham, you hit the nail on the head: "My address in 1985, The Genius of Orthodoxy: Eldresses," was never addressed by either the Moderates or the Conservatives. The former, it seemed to me, did not care to hear how there could be female ministers from the perspective of the Bible as the Word of God and the latter had their clear cut statement about women not being allowed to teach or exercise authority - no exceptions allowed. The latter forgot that the rule of exception is the very one on which our salvation is based, a fact which the Puritans knew.
3/13/2009 2:10:19 PM

Dr. James Willingham
While serving as chairman of the Historical Committee of the BSCNC in 1985, I decided to explore the historical and biblical cases for women in ministry that had been posed by the fact that Sandy Creek Baptist Church, circa 1755-1771, had eldresses. Since the records for the Assn. and the church had burned in the fire that consumed the home of the clerk of both organizations, it was no easy task. The point is that in that period there was no question about obeying the Scripture. How then could Shubal Stearns have justified having eldresses (his sister, Martha Stearns Marshall, was one of the two eldresses)? Up to that point I had always held that the prohibitions of I Tim.2 applied and no exceptions were allowed. Of course, I just sort of ignored any exceptions to the rule. A number of factors were involved in my investigation. One was the development of a method which grew out of the Reformation principle of comparing Scripture with Scripture (one almost always forgotten, ignored, or explained away today) and which I called the Synthetical principle (two sets of evidence and principles side by side without synthesis - an excuse to go one way or the other) and the fact that a few of the Puritans recognized that there had to be exceptions based on the simple fact that the Bible gave examples. Matthew Poole stated, regarding Paul's precept, "I suffer not a woman to teach or usurp authority," with the fact that "this is true except she be a called and gifted woman such as..." and he went on to name the prophetesses, etc. of the Old and New Testaments. I also think Elder Stearns or someone in Sandy Creek must have had knowledge of Greek/commentaries/or history, because the term eldresses can be a rendering of the Greek for aged women as in I Tim 5:2. Also, there is that elusive lady in Southen Baptist History who had done some things in her mission service ordinarily reserved for men. She is said to have commented, in response as to whether she was ordained, "No, I have never been ordained, but I was foreordained." Personally, I know of one Southern Baptist lady, a soul-winning visitor who would put 98% of the pastors to shame by her zeal. She was the mother of a friend of mine in college. We always were half-way teasing her, half-way trying to warn her that she should not be doing what she was doing (after all her place was in the home) (she was then a visitor for a church in Mo). Ys. later after losing contact with her family, I heard she had become a minister. Then I heard she had founded a Baptist church which at the end of her ministry she gave to Southern Baptists. They made it very plain that the church would never acknowledge that a woman had been associated with its origin. Personally, I am on no crusade for or against women in ministry, but I am on a crusade to honor the word of God written as the source of truly liberal, radical (getting back to the basics), and fundamental truths that make life worth living. Biblical truths make Christians balanced, flexible, creative, and magnetic. My address in 1985, "The Genius of Orthodoxy: Eldresses," was never addressed by either the Moderates or the Conservatives. The former, it seemed to me, did not care to hear how there could be female ministers from the perspective of the Bible as the Word of God and the latter had their clear cut statement about women not being allowed to teach or exercise authority - no exceptions allowed. The latter forgot that the rule of exception is the very one on which our salvation is based, a fact which the Puritans knew. People who stress authority too much fall into authoritarianism (a real sickness - witness Germany in the 20th century), a hierarchy type of view which I actually heard expressed by one minister's wife (she did not know she was heading straight back to Rome when Rome seems to be going the other way at times). What we meet is to be authoritative, a healthy exercise of authority, based on principles from Scripture and a respect for God's right to call whom He pleases. In the meanwhile, the Lord has a great sense of humor, and he will call and bless just enough of the ladies as to give conniption kitties to know-it-alls with a verse or two to their credit. We all ought to laugh and not get bent out of shape over this issue. Men can be hilarious in the presence of the ladies at times.
3/13/2009 1:58:59 PM

Tony Watts
I'm not so sure that the emphasis on "calling" is biblically proper given the post-modern slant. It is a term that views ecclesiastical roles as purely subjective. It discounts an objecitivity in realtion to ones call. In other words, God never violates his own objective standards. He has set the standard for the ordained positions in the church and those standards are objectively stated.

3/13/2009 10:01:35 AM

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