Co-Laborers and Co-Heirs

(Posted by Paige)

Last year I had the unexpected privilege of contributing a chapter to a book by and about women in the PCA, Co-Laborers and Co-Heirs: A Family Conversation, which was published this week. The project is intended to be an outlet for and an encouragement to theologically gifted women in this complementarian denomination, as well as a plea to PCA (and other) church leaders to listen to and care about such women in their congregations. I’m flagging it here in case any of you decide to read it and want a place to comment or ask questions afterwards.

It’s an anthology, so if you do pick it up I think I can guarantee two things: (1) that not every chapter will appeal to you; and (2) (if you persevere with it) at least one of the authors—a mother, sister, brother, or daughter in the faith—will articulate a truth or an experience that will add to your store of compassion for women in your congregation, regardless of denomination.

In my chapter I chose the unusual path, for me, of writing autobiographically. As a rule I have mostly veered away from telling my own story when I write, wanting to keep my focus on the biblical and theological topics that I’ve opted to explore. I’m also not a fan of setting up myself (rather than my thinking) as a target for criticism.

But this time I decided that my story was worth telling. Fourteen years ago, I took the life-changing step of voluntarily moving from an entirely egalitarian church background into PCA membership. At the time, I was already a decade into what became a twenty-year dive into Reformed theology and redemptive history, and the leaders of my very traditional church didn’t know what to do with me. My chapter recounts how we muddled through more than a dozen years together, in that context and with my gifts of study and teaching.

Spoilers: there’s been love in that mix, as well as sorrow and frustration. I tell my story for the sake of others who might also end up walking this road-less-taken, either as theologically trained women in a complementarian setting, or as elders who receive such women into membership and don’t quite know how to welcome them.

I’d be glad to field specific questions about my experience or general questions about the book, though I cannot speak for any of the other authors. (I didn’t even know most of them existed until we collaborated on this project.) Mainly I wanted to provide a space in the GB context for the reactions I expect our project will provoke. Have at it.

43 Comments

  1. Steve Drake said,

    June 15, 2019 at 5:18 pm

    I can see by the lack of comments since this was posted, that most don’t want to touch it with a 10-foot pole. At the risk of life and livelihood, of sounding misogynistic, and being labeled insensitive to you, Paige, and all my Christian sisters, I think any discussion here must address the curse on Eve in Gen. 3:16 and the account of her temptation by Satan in the garden. What happened and why did it happen? One must start there. To avoid it, of necessity leads to at least an insufficient and incomplete answer, at most, theological doctrinal aberration:

    ,,,Yet your desire shall be for your husband, And he shall rule over you

    Was there any theological unpacking of this by you or the other contributors in the book? These are the very words of God Himself. Why would He curse Eve in this way, and by generation, all women who follow? What was His intent? Did Paul, designated an apostle, since he saw and conversed with the LORD, misunderstand God’s intent? Did his correct understanding, if it was correct, frame his comments in 1 Cor. 11:9, 2 Cor. 11:3, and 1 Tim. 2: 9-15? What implications does this have for the married life with a husband, and by extension, the body politic of the life and relationships in a church?

    If part of the Curse on Eve is the constant struggle for authority and power, a constant struggle for headship, and position, and women are not taught that this is a basic part of their sin nature as a result of the Curse upon them by God, then frustrations at home and in the church will abound. We do a great disservice to our sisters in the faith when this very important theological truth is avoided, swept under the rug, and otherwise ignored and downplayed.

  2. Phil Derksen said,

    June 16, 2019 at 4:55 pm

    Really?.. Not interested in further dialogue on this, SD, but it’s an autobiographical contribution within a larger “conversation”, not a systematic theology.

  3. Steve Drake said,

    June 17, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    Well, I suppose that’s one way to deal with it PD: just refuse to dialog about it. Keep pushing it under the rug and all problems will go away.

    It’s quite interesting to me that in reading the chapter “Uncivilized Fruit”, at least that portion of the chapter given on the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon, I read the following:

    Meanwhile, my theological bent drove me to look more closely at the relevant passages about women’s roles in the church, now that I was actively subject to them. I had begun to hear rumors of other PCA churches that had adopted a more lenient policy regarding women teaching, and I wondered how they squared their practices with the text. Even if our session supported a different conclusion, I could at least make up my own mind about it.
    Many commentaries and articles later, I decided nobody really knew anything for certain. Paul’s words were just too ambiguous, coming to us from so long ago and far away.

    Paul’s words were just ‘too ambiguous’, coming to us from ‘so long ago’ and ‘far away’. ‘I decided’, ‘nobody really knew anything for certain’.

    This choice of words reminds me of ‘code words’ of the liberal theological left. If the PCA is going to have this debate, and Paige, if you think Paul was just ‘too ambiguous’, then there is a far greater problem than not understanding the curse on Eve of Gen. 3:16, and the debate must start further back.

  4. Steve Drake said,

    June 17, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    GB,
    Respectfully brother, unless you’ve moved to the left, “Lord please let it not be so”, you have given a platform to an undermining of doctrinal purity and stability. If Paul’s words, his epistles, his commands as speaking from God are just too ambiguous, and we can’t know for certain what they mean, then all hell breaks loose and we might as well reject it all. I plead with you, brother, exercise the discipline required as one who holds the truth of God in highest regard.

  5. Steve Drake said,

    June 24, 2019 at 6:02 pm

    Update: 6.24.19
    A funny thing happened on the way to Amazon this morning. The chapter “Uncivilized Fruit” has disappeared from the “Look Inside” feature of the book /Co-Laborers and Co-Heirs on the Amazon.com website.

    Now, why would that happen? Mmm, Mmm, Mmm. A chapter that was there last week, is now gone completely. Wow! Machinations abound!

  6. Don said,

    June 27, 2019 at 11:03 pm

    Steve,
    That chapter is available today. There are no “Machinations.” It was maybe something like a glitch in Amazon’s cloud resources. Not everything is a conspiracy.

  7. Steve Drake said,

    June 28, 2019 at 7:44 am

    Don,
    One must click on the ‘Kindle Edition’ button at the top of the page, and not the ‘Print Book’ button which is the usual default. The ‘Print Book’ default had the chapter last week, but no longer. Thank you for your clarification.

    In order to engage the topic at hand, rather than go back and forth over whether there were machinations involved, please disregard my post #5. I agree that not everything is a machination/conspiracy and stand corrected.

  8. SteveD said,

    July 2, 2019 at 6:42 am

    I have been a reader of this blog for years, but have not commented on any articles until now. As I read this, and the discussion that no one will have with Steve Drake, I can’t help but wonder at how quickly the church has departed from biblical tradition.

    For over 1800 years, women wore head coverings in church. Luther enjoined it, as did Calvin. It was never really questioned for 19 centuries, and even into the 20th. But then, suddenly, women stopped wearing head coverings and it became a “cultural” issue. For some reason, American culture became the standard for biblical interpretation, though German, Swiss, Russian, African, English, and almost every other culture accepted the biblical norm of head covering. I have read a plethora of scholars arguing for a cultural interpretation, but most of them only do so AFTER the women’s suffrage movement and the rise of feminism. One then is left to wonder if our interpretation of Scripture is being framed by culture rather than by linguistics and context, as per the usual method. What is the harm in women covering their heads in church? Why is it such a hot button issue, other than striking at the heart of the feminist movement?

    Then there is the issue of the role of women in the church, along with women speaking in church and leading bible studies. Again, this phenomenon was rare at best before the late 19th century. And, again, the church began reinterpreting those passages in light of cultural movements. Now we have women who not only speak in church, but lead studies and prayer circles and other such groups. But, as long as they’re under “elder oversight” we don’t say much about it. And as for women leading women’s bible studies, we give that a pass without a thought – even though the bible says women are to learn from their husbands. Yet I know a great number of women that think they’re more biblically educated that their husbands because they have attended these study groups where their husbands only make it to church once a week. And many of them are quick to say that they’re under the headship of their husband, but nobody can really explain what that means in the context – it’s just a placebo for the “biblicists.” And, as a church, we think all of this is a good idea.

    Along with Steve Drake, I can’t help but wonder how much of this is a reflection of the curse, and of Eve’s actions that precipitated the curse. We want to pay lip service to complementarianism, but in reality we have moved away from the model of subordination presented by the New Testament. And while I can sympathize with Paige, though I have no idea who she is, and I recognize that the church must ensure that women are cared for with compassion, I also think that we need to reexamine how we understand a woman’s role in the church from a biblical perspective, not a cultural perspective.

    This post is not meant to criticize Paige personally – far from it – but to criticize the mindset of the church over the past 150 years as we have allowed culture to shape our theology of gender more than we have the Bible. And, in my opinion, unless we address these issues head on, as uncomfortable as they might be, the path forward will only get muddier and more twisted. When the Reformers took their stand, they were calling the church to recover lost doctrines and flee extra-biblical practices. Perhaps it is time to make that same stand on this issue.

  9. paigebritton said,

    July 2, 2019 at 7:47 am

    Hello all!
    I didn’t intentionally ignore your comments here, Steve Drake — I had thought I’d get WordPress notifications when comments appeared, and I forgot that doesn’t always happen.

    As Phil points out, my chapter is indeed only an autobiographical contribution, not a systematic theology. Truly I’m not speaking in a liberal theology code, though I can see why you might think so. I’m just speaking out of my own limitations and confusions, and your critique of my limited understanding is fair. As I said above, I normally hate writing autobiographically for exactly this reason; but I thought I’d give it a shot, because sometimes the articulation of a person’s experience can be instructive in other ways.

    Yeah, no clue about the algorithm that lets you read one chapter or another. Maybe it’s rotating through the book? I just ignore it, so I wasn’t fiddling with that. I want y’all to read it, after all.

  10. paigebritton said,

    July 2, 2019 at 8:25 am

    SteveD, thanks for jumping in. You bring up a very relevant point about the influence of culture vs. the straightforward teaching of the Scripture. Coming as I do to a traditional church context as an adult, rather than having grown up in it, I am encumbered by lots of cultural baggage that dims my ability to (or readiness to) accept some biblical teaching, even if I truly want to be faithful to the Word of God. I’ve coped with the inner dissonance by viewing myself as a guest in a house (whether my church or here at GB), where I don’t make the rules or challenge them, but try to exist and contribute within them. My little essay was an attempt to articulate how hard this can be.

    Curious question: As a leader in your own church setting, how would you reach out to a person like me, without compromising your strong convictions about what’s appropriate for women in the church?

  11. Steve Drake said,

    July 3, 2019 at 8:04 am

    @ Paige #9,

    Thank you for your clarification Paige. Perhaps you can clarify how you feel Paul is just ‘too ambiguous’, and what you feel are the ramifications of his words and writings coming to us from ‘so long ago’ and ‘far away’.

    Ca you also clarify what you mean when you say in your chapter:

    In all my life, I have never felt so conscious of and discouraged about being embodied female than in these last dozen years. I have not been won over by this civilization, and although I love my church, I do not find its underlying culture winsome.

  12. Steve Drake said,

    July 3, 2019 at 8:21 am

    In particular, perhaps, Paige, what is the angst you feel about being embodied female, and why you feel the underlying culture is not winsome?

  13. roberty bob said,

    July 4, 2019 at 3:27 am

    For your encouragement, Paige, The Acts of the Apostles tell of a certain Priscilla who helped her husband Aquila explain to Apollo’s the way of God more adequately. This same Priscilla is first on Paul’s Greetings List (Romans 16). Therefore, it doth appear that one woman who opened her mouth to instruct a man in the way of God was known to have done so and allowed to have done so by no less than an Apostle of Christ. Clearly (to me anyway), Priscilla highly esteemed by the church and valued for her teaching gift. I doubt she was discouraged about being embodied female.

    With appreciation for your contributions to GB! — rb

  14. paigebritton said,

    July 5, 2019 at 11:44 am

    Certainly, Steve. My essay is simply an attempt to report my subjective experience in this setting, so it reflects the collision of the culture of my upbringing and the culture of a very traditional church. As is the case with any kind of discouragement or disappointment, you would be right to suppose that my own misplaced hopes and expectations have largely contributed to those feelings. Please take those statements with a grain of salt.

    On the other hand, the actions (and indifference) of others have also at times contributed to my sense of discouragement about being female. I can’t help but see that I’d be a better fit in this traditional setting if I were male. (This is not a rejection of my biological femaleness, but an acknowledgement that my gender is the sole thing that disqualifies me in some instances from work I’d love to do.)

    But I hope you also caught in that essay my acknowledgement that individual brothers have seen to my flourishing, despite my overall experience. My participation in this church has been a learning experience for all of us. I don’t find the culture any more comfortable (or “winsome”) now than I did at the start; perhaps if others had been aware of my “angst” from the start, they might have been a little more proactive in seeing how I might fit well, after all, and I’d be able now to report that this feeling has changed. But that didn’t happen, except in isolated instances. It’s been nobody’s responsibility but my own to look out for me and my subjective experience, of course, but it would have been a kindness. As I explain in my essay, I wrote my story for the sake of others who find themselves in the same sort of situation.

    Please take my comments about Paul’s “ambiguity” (in 1 Timothy 2) squarely in the context of my personal story: with so many perspectives and interpretations abounding, that was the best conclusion that I could come to when I researched the topic a dozen years ago. I was (and am) not smart enough to see with absolute clarity whether Paul had the modern mixed Sunday school in mind or no, but I was (and am) wise enough to recuse myself from weighing in on the issue. I’m too personally invested to make a good call. This is why I have always submitted to the “rules of the house” in my church.

    Hope these responses clarify a little for you. Thanks for your engagement!

  15. paigebritton said,

    July 5, 2019 at 11:44 am

    Thanks for the encouragement, Roberty Bob. I look forward to having a nice long chat with Priscilla one day.

  16. Ron said,

    July 8, 2019 at 7:26 am

    The problem with complementarianism is it sidesteps authority and submission, if not implicitly denies it. Robert Letham sounded that alarm over twenty five years ago.

  17. Steve Drake said,

    July 8, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    …sidesteps authority and submission…

    Bingo! And herein lies the nexus I think. There is no discussion of what that entails Biblically. Why woman? Why woman – why was she created? What was God’s purpose and intent for creating woman?

    We are not helping our sisters in the faith if we are not addressing this question and understanding the fundamental reason and intent according to God’s plan.

    Then, we must address what happened in the garden. Why was Eve deceived? She believed the lie from the Father of Lies. Why was that? Satan’s fall and her temptation and fall parallel each other. The basis of all sin: wanting something we have no right to have.The ultimate act of self-worship and idolatry.

    Did she then beguile her husband into eating the forbidden fruit? What was that conversation like?

    Did Paul’s understanding then form his commands from God about women teaching and having authority, and remaining silent?

    We’re skipping the right questions.

  18. Phil Derksen said,

    July 8, 2019 at 6:38 pm

    “The problem with complementarianism is it sidesteps authority and submission, if not implicitly denies it.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Complementarianism

    I’m confused. Don’t you mean “egalitarianism”?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_egalitarianism

  19. roberty bob said,

    July 8, 2019 at 7:18 pm

    Doesn’t the Joel 2:28 prophecy fulfilled in the Acts 2:17 Pentecostal outpouring bring men & women together in a complementary way for the ministry of God’s Word?

    If women are also prophesying along with the men, how does this square with the men doing the teaching while the women keep silent?

    Could it be that there are some ministry settings in which women are free to prophesy/proclaim, while there are other settings where they must keep silent?

  20. Ron said,

    July 10, 2019 at 6:30 am

    Hi Phil,

    No, I meant complementarianism. In several places the link even enforces my point. It notes that men and women have different “roles and responsibilities.” That’s the centerpiece of complementarianism.

    Different “roles” is weak. It only speaks to function, not authority and submission. A subordinate in the work place has a different role than his supervisor but so might two people, horizontally located on the corporate chart, doing different jobs yet with equal status. Accordingly, a different role doesn’t imply a hierarchy of authority. That a husband and wife assume different roles in marriage sidesteps the question of authority and submission. Also, roles can be reversed. One might get his boss’ job. Roles pertain to a part one plays, but roles needn’t be permanent nor suited to nature. So, different roles doesn’t imply the wife can’t be the head.

    Furthermore, the link speaks of “equal status,” which is not a reference to what it calls “moral” equality. We know what equal means, which only leaves us to consider the meaning of status. Status refers to rank, which contemplates hierarchy. With respect to status, the article states that husband and wife are equal. That’s to deny a doctrine of headship.

    “Though women may be precluded from certain roles and ministries they are held to be equal in moral value and of equal status. The phrase used to describe this is ‘Ontologically equal, Functionally different’.”

    Note well, “moral value” draws a straight line to “ontologically equal.” Yes, husband and wives are morally equally. What does “equal status” equate to? The article equates it to “functionally different!” But as I noted, two employees reporting to the same supervisor can have different “functions” but neither would have authority over the other. Functionally different doesn’t imply the necessity of an authority status.

    Yes, the link tacks on headship at the very end. It notes that complementarians assign headship to the man. But even that’s inadequate. It’s not to define complementarianism by a doctrine of headship. By way of analogy, Trinitarians assign miracles to Jesus but the miracles of Jesus aren’t what defines Trinitarianism. One can deny the miracles while upholding the ontological Trinity. Just like we see complementarians paying lip service to headship. By definition, to complement something or someone doesn’t require hierarchy. Nor does it preclude hierarchy. Accordingly, complementarianism was a wax nose from the start.

    After all that, the piece finally states: “One of the precepts of complementarianism is that while women may assist in the decision-making process, the ultimate authority for the decision is the purview of the male in marriage, courtship, and in the polity of churches subscribing to this view.” Not sure how that got in there after all that preceded it. At most it contradicts. At the least, it has no root.

    The problem with the thin complementarianism of the day, which sometimes tacks on such a sentiment as that one, is that headship in the home and church becomes mysterious (if not arbitrary) rather than obviously natural. Why do I say that? Well, by denying that the male-female distinction has any natural and far reaching relevance outside of church and marriage, the thin complementarian is forced to abandon the very basis for authority distinctions in church and marriage, namely the created order. There is no longer anything fitting about Scripture’s instruction for church and family government. Indeed, the roles could be reversed if they’re no longer grounded in nature. But if they are grounded in nature, then we’d expect application outside church and family, which most complementarians will not have. In fact, it’s compromised in the church, even by those who’d deny that it is.

  21. rfwhite said,

    July 10, 2019 at 10:46 am

    16 Ron:

    Am I right that Letham’s contribution to which you refer is found in Westminster Theological Journal 52 (1990)? If so, below is the synopsis he himself provided of his argument in the article.

    1. The equality of the persons of the Trinity exists in the form of an order which includes a relation of authority and obedience.

    2. Man in his imaging of God in righteousness, knowledge, and true holiness is also a relational being, the equality of male and female existing in the form of an order including a relation of authority.

    3. Man in the church is being renewed in the image of God, not so as to supersede the above relation of authority as if such a relation were to belong to his prior condition of sin, but, instead, increasingly and progressively to embody such a relation in the context of holiness, righteousness, truth, and love.

    4. The feminist movement within the church is incompatible with the historic Christian doctrines of God and man.

  22. Ron said,

    July 10, 2019 at 11:57 am

    Yes, Fowler.

    Yet right below that excerpt you provided, Bob also had this to say, which is what I was referring to:

    “A few points of clarification are necessary before we begin. First, let me explain what I mean by feminism. As a working definition we will include all who reject the idea of a relation of authority between the man and the woman and instead prefer to talk simply in terms of complementarily…”

    Back in Spring of 1990, I believe Letham saw the seeds of exchanging authority and submission language for speaking in terms of “complementarily.”

    He went on to distinguish three types of feminism in “elastic” terms that still lend themselves to some overlap: Evangelical, Christian and Religious feminism.

    (As an aside, Bob would no longer argue for ontic trinitarian relations today quite in those terms of authority and obedience. Yet I would also maintain that Bob was always nuanced enough, even to the point where he should never have been misunderstood or claimed by the subordination crowd.)

  23. rfwhite said,

    July 10, 2019 at 12:45 pm

    22 Ron: Yes. As it relates to using the terms of authority and obedience to describe ontic trinitarian relations, I see Letham’s response to K. Giles’s review of his 2004 book on the Trinity (see Evangelical Quarterly [2006]). In it, Letham insists on a careful distinction (not made by Giles) between eternal submission (which Letham affirmed) and eternal subordination (which Letham denied). I’m sure Letham provided more after 2006, in light of the recent critiques of the teaching of eternal subordination. Off the cuff, do you know where we might find comments from Letham since 2006?

  24. Ron said,

    July 10, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    Fowler,

    As for public consumption, at least up through 2008 Letham and Kevin Giles were still interacting over the matter. Although they’d disagree on headship, I do think that Giles now better appreciates Letham on the Trinity. Otherwise, I don’t think he would have had Bob write the forward to his book, The Eternal Generation of the Son. (2012)

    In 2015 Bob contributed one chapter among eleven in One God in Three Persons. His contribution is Eternal Generation in the Church Fathers.

    Bob’s book on the Holy Trinity is up for a second edition and also his ST should be out by end of the year. I would expect both around the same time.

  25. Ron said,

    July 10, 2019 at 6:28 pm

    “Last year I had the unexpected privilege of contributing a chapter to a book by and about women in the PCA, Co-Laborers and Co-Heirs: A Family Conversation, which was published this week. The project is intended to be an outlet for and an encouragement to theologically gifted women in this complementarian denomination, as well as a plea to PCA (and other) church leaders to listen to and care about such women in their congregations.”

    Dear Paige,

    I sincerely have no idea what any of that means. I suppose that’s why I haven’t commented until now, but here I try. :)

    You say the project is intended to be an outlet. I would have assumed the project is the book itself. Is the project continual? In other words, are other books planned? Or, is the project / book intended to discuss and foster future ideas for outlets for certain persons (as opposed to the book-project itself being or providing the outlet)? I’m just not clear what the outlet is as it relates to the book itself.

    I’ve never heard the term “theologically gifted.” Would you elaborate? Specifically, is the gifted scale the same for men and women? Also, I trust the bar of giftedness does not pertain to achievement as much as it might pertain to aptitude coupled with interest, since one can have an underdeveloped gift. Can you confirm?

    I’d also be interested to know how young males and even teaching elders that you might consider theologically gifted are encouraged and cared for (nurtured) in ways that theologically gifted women aren’t. There are men’s bible studies and women bible studies. Older men and older women who teach younger men and younger women. There are also theological message boards and seminaries for sharpening and refining one’s thoughts. Obviously I’m missing something because I can’t think of any theological outlet available to me that’s not available to my wife other than a mixed adult study. (And since very few in the church are called to preach, I don’t see that as tipping the scales toward men.)

    “…at least one of the authors—a mother, sister, brother, or daughter in the faith—will articulate a truth or an experience that will add to your store of compassion for women in your congregation…”

    Again, I have no idea what you’re saying. I’m going to assume that by women you still mean the theologically gifted women. Another guess is that by “compassion” you are speaking about deeply caring that such women gain an outlet for their theological gifts, presumably in some teaching forum. Do you find this compassion be applied to theologically gifted men?

    “As a rule I have mostly veered away from telling my own story when I write, wanting to keep my focus on the biblical and theological topics that I’ve opted to explore. I’m also not a fan of setting up myself (rather than my thinking) as a target for criticism.”

    I don’t understand the relevant distinction between a person and their thinking in this particular context, but that’s probably not that important.

    “…the leaders of my very traditional church didn’t know what to do with me.”

    That’s a shame. Maybe they’re trying to identify a problem that doesn’t truly exist.

    “My chapter recounts how we muddled through more than a dozen years together, in that context and with my gifts of study and teaching.”

    Again, I’m at a loss. How does a man whet his theological appetite in ways not available to a woman?

    No hurry.

  26. Ron said,

    July 10, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    In my fourth paragraph, first sentence, I meant ruling elders rather than teaching elders. Feel free to edit and delete this post.

  27. roberty bob said,

    July 11, 2019 at 3:31 am

    So, it is Sunday School hour after morning worship. An adult class of forty members — men & women — meet. The male teacher, appointed and approved by the session, asks one of the women to read a Bible passage; the male teacher expounds on it for 5 minutes, puts forth a question, and fields responses from two women and one man. One of the women is well grounded in the Christian faith and offers a perceptive insight. The male teacher invites the same woman to expand on her response by drawing upon related Scriptures. She has exegetical skills.
    The class — this gathering of the body of Christ — is edified by this woman’s labor in the ministry of the Word.

    Have I just described a ministry transgression, or does this occur safely within the bounds of co-laboring for Christ?

    I ask this only because I wonder what is behind Paige’s actual experience — the man/woman dynamic in the churches she has served.

  28. Ron said,

    July 11, 2019 at 7:13 am

    RB, you’re teaching a Sunday School class hour after morning worship. An adult class of forty members — men & women — meet. The male teacher, appointed and approved by the session, asks one of the women to read a Bible passage; the male teacher expounds on it for 5 minutes, puts forth a question, and fields responses from two women and one man. One of the women is well grounded in the Christian faith and offers a perceptive insight. The male teacher invites the same woman to expand on her response by drawing upon related Scriptures. She has exegetical skills…

    What’s the name of the SS teacher?

  29. rfwhite said,

    July 11, 2019 at 12:57 pm

    27 RB, 28 Ron — Add a little more to your thought experiment.

    An apostle of Christ (let’s say, Paul or Peter or John) walks in after the worship service and asks, What is this activity that you call “a Sunday School class”? We might imagine that apostle going on to ask us, What are the fundamental principles governing the relationships among God’s people in such a setting?

    As a starting point at least, I’d look to 1 Tim 5.1-2 and reach conclusions to this effect: that, whenever we relate to our fellow members in God’s household, we’re obligated 1) to take into account the sex and the age of others, and 2) to remember that the roles of man and woman and of younger and older are not interchangeable. From that framework, it looks to me that I’m to understand:

    1) that, just as the roles of the sexes and the ages are not interchangeable in human families, so they are not in the church family;

    2) that a man, as capable and gifted as he may be, can never function as a “mother” in God’s household, though he may function as a “father” in God’s household; and

    3) that a woman, as capable and gifted as she may be, may never function as a “father” in God’s household, though she may function as a “mother” in God’s household.

  30. roberty bob said,

    July 11, 2019 at 3:36 pm

    The Name of the Teacher?

    Does the Name determine the answer?

    Whether the Apostles know about this thing called Sunday School, this thing goes on in thousands of local churches. The scene I describe occurs occasionally in the male/female class that I teach, most of whom are 55 – 95 years in age. Everyone is respectful of each other; none of the women domineer the men. So, is a woman who explains Scripture in Sunday School taking on the role of a father? If so, then did not Priscilla do the same when she explained the way of God to Apollos? We’re the prophesying daughters of Philip taking on the role of the father? Or, did they prophesy to women only?

  31. Ron said,

    July 11, 2019 at 5:51 pm

    “The Name of the Teacher?”

    Yes. It’s a riddle, adapted from two places, your post a and a riddle about people getting on and off a bus, which your post reminded me of for some reason.

  32. roberty bob said,

    July 11, 2019 at 7:48 pm

    Being a school bus driver — my day job — I, of all people, ought to have the knowledge to out riddle the riddler.

    Obviously, the teacher is named Priscilla. If not Priscilla, Paige! Aquila looks over her shoulder, however.

  33. Ron said,

    July 11, 2019 at 8:32 pm

    “RB, you’re teaching a Sunday School class….”

    What’s the name of the SS teacher?

  34. rfwhite said,

    July 11, 2019 at 8:37 pm

    30 RB: Agreed, this thing we call Sunday School goes on in thousands of local churches. As I said, 1 Tim 5.1-2 is a starting point to discern the principles governing the relationships among God’s people in such a setting. But why take this starting point? Because, as I see it, we tend to become pragmatic instead of remaining principled in these settings. That is, we apply inconsistently the principle that the distinct roles assigned to men and women in marriage and family carry over into the distinct roles assumable by men and women in the church. In other words, the fundamental principles governing relationships in human households are applicable to the church as God’s household (1 Tim 3.15; 5.1-2; cf. 3.4-5). Yes, it is vital that the sexes (and the age groups) should be respectful of each other, with neither being domineering toward the other – and that same respect is loaded with implications for your questions.

    The instance of Priscilla teaching Apollos, as I understand it, is not properly analogous to a woman explaining Scripture in Sunday School, much less taking on the role of a father. Priscilla’s words to Apollos were part of an explanation to which her husband Aquila contributed, and at that they were spoken in a private meeting between the three of them. Certainly, unlike Apollos, Priscilla is not portrayed as speaking in the meeting of the synagogue. Dr. Luke in fact contrasts Apollos’ “speaking out boldly in the synagogue” (18:26; cf. 18:28, “in public debate”) with Priscilla’s and Aquila’s “[inviting] him to their home (NIV; “[taking] him aside,” ESV, NASB, and NKJV) to explain the way of God more accurately to Apollos. If anything, this episode is not a public meeting of mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers in a Sunday School class, but is a private meeting between a father and mother in the faith and their brother.

    As for the prophesying daughters of Philip, I would argue that the same principles and regulations governed all speaking gifts (prophecy, teaching, etc.) given to the church. The principles and regulations presented in the Pastorals (1 Tim 5.2; 2.12; 3.11; 5.9-10, 14; see also Titus 2.3-5; and 2 Tim 1.5) are also cited and applied in 1 Cor 11 and 14 (11.5 and 14.26-35). The family-church analogy is at work in these chapters. Also, the distinct roles assigned to men and women in marriage and family are presented as carrying over into the distinct roles assumable by men and women in the church. If this reading is right, it would mean that female teachers and prophetesses participated freely in the meetings of God’s household when it came to praying, singing, giving thanks, and the like (1 Cor 11.5 with 14.15-19; cf. Acts 1.14; 2.17-18); but when it came to giving instruction to the gathered church through the exercise of their gifts, they were at least ostensibly expected to be silent (1 Cor 14.19 with 14.34-35; cf. 1 Tim 2.12). At the same time, as “mothers” in God’s household, older women with speaking gifts (or without) instructed other women, even as the apostles’ directives about and descriptions of their activities indicate.

  35. roberty bob said,

    July 11, 2019 at 10:31 pm

    To Ron at #33 . . . The name of the teacher is the Lord, the Spirit of Truth. If you want my name included, then add Robert aka Bob.

    To rfwhite at #34 . . . Much appreciation for your thoughtful answer, especially with regard to Priscilla’s role. That makes sense to me. As for the prophesying daughters of Philip, I’m not persuaded that praying and singing and giving thanks would be viewed as prophesying; otherwise everyone in the congregation would be prophets by vocation. If we are all prophets by vocation, then why point out Philip’s daughters if they do only what all other women are already doing? Furthermore, if their actual ministry is a women’s ministry with no men in the mix, then a host of other women can also be said to be prophesying whenever mature women instruct the young women. So, honestly, I cannot see why Philip’s four daughters are mentioned unless they were called to be evangelists, preachers, or teachers of men and women together. Could these daughters do this with the oversight of session?

    From what I am hearing, I gather that the adult Sunday School class needs a reformation so that men only contribute to the exposition or instruction of the Scriptures. The women of the class may pray, sing, and give thanks. Otherwise, the women keep silence. Men and women sitting in a circle to engage in conversation on the meaning of Scripture is off the table!

  36. Ron said,

    July 12, 2019 at 12:28 pm

    My sense RB, is not that women may not ask questions in such a setting, just that they shouldn’t presume to instruct, either explicitly or through a rhetorical tactic of asking questions or making comments that cash out as instructing. Related to that but under vastly different principles, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with non ordained males exhorting in such a setting if elders were present or facilitating.

  37. rfwhite said,

    July 12, 2019 at 1:26 pm

    35 RB: I’m following you.

    You’re not “persuaded that praying and singing and giving thanks would be viewed as prophesying; otherwise everyone in the congregation would be prophets by vocation.” Ok, but that’s exactly the point: in prayer, song, and thanksgiving everyone who has the Spirit of Christ is a prophet in the general sense, even those who are prophets in the special sense. This is the “prophethood of all believers” taught in Acts 2.17-18: the days for which Joel and Moses longed have come. In those acts of ministry to the Lord in worship – in prayer, song, and thanksgiving, the congregation of women and men is an assembly of prophets (sometimes called “liturgical prophets”). This is just as it was when women and men both engaged in those same activities in the ministries of choirs and musicians organized under David, and the Chronicler called those activities “prophesying” (1 Chron 25:3, 5-6 with 1 Cor 14:15). So, as those endowed with the Spirit, all in Christ are prophets, just as all are also priests and rulers.

    The fact, however, that all in Christ have the same Spirit and are prophets in the general sense, does not mean that all have the same gifts of the Spirit and are prophets in the special sense. When it comes to why Luke points out Philip’s daughters and Agabus as prophets, he doesn’t do so because they do only what all other women or men are already doing. To the contrary, he does so because they do what other women and men do not do. Philip’s daughters and Agabus were among those distinguished from and recognized by other believers as prophets in the special sense. Their distinctiveness lay in their God-given ability and zeal for the ministry of communicating God’s authoritative word to His people so that whatever they communicated, in spoken and written forms, was to be received as “what the Spirit says to the churches.” Through their gift of prophecy, God, once and for all, gave His authoritative (spoken and written) witness to the once-and-for-all, authoritative person and work of Christ. What the prophets said was what the Holy Spirit said.

    As far as whether we need a reformation of Adult Sunday School class, let’s agree that, as Protestants, we understand that the church is always to be “working to ensure that our hearts and lives are being reformed by the Word and Spirit of God” (as Dr. Godfrey puts it). But, in that reminder, I do not presume to predict outcomes that are immediately evident to all, much less to me. The issue I’m pressing here is not a particular outcome(s), but an answer to the question, What are the principles that govern relationships in the ministries of the church, including in the ministry of Adult Sunday School? Presumably, we all “acknowledge that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God and the government of the church – circumstances common to human activities and societies – which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (to borrow the words of WCF 1.6). From parts of Paige’s autobiography, I sense that she’s looked or is looking for those principles.

    So, I’d say let’s let it simmer and percolate. I’ve proposed from relevant Scriptures that the family-church analogy is the operative principial framework that the apostles applied. If that’s not it, let’s identify the framework that is at work.

    Perhaps the proper framework is the one the church in Corinth appears to have used: “in Christ there is neither male nor female.” From what we see in Paul’s review, they affirmed that in Christ they had arrived at a place where gender distinctions no longer applied, in God’s household or in human households. Such distinctions were a socio-cultural construct that is no longer part of life in Christ; they were a relic of the ages before Christ, a shadow of the substance that has now come in Christ. So, again, “in Christ there is neither male nor female.” As a result, all in Christ are now interchangeable, and we may live our lives – we may use our gifts – without regard to gender distinctions.

    Despite these impulses, which are partially rooted in revealed truth, we find the apostles telling us that those in Christ must uphold the distinction between the sexes. With that in mind, my sense is like Ron’s. Women and men who are not teaching should take the seat of a disciple and not presume to take the place of the teacher.

  38. SteveD said,

    July 12, 2019 at 3:03 pm

    RB #35 – In your scenario, when the women pray do they need to cover their heads?

  39. roberty bob said,

    July 12, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    To rfwhite #37

    Thank you for the time and effort put into your response.

    I agree with you entirely on the prophethood of believers as manifested in the ministry of prayer, song, and giving thanks. The fact that Philip’s daughters are specifically designated as prophetesses tells me that their words carry the authoritative weight of Christ himself. This also tells me that whenever it pleases the Lord to anoint such women with authority to proclaim, He does so.

    At any rate, I am in full accord with the principle that women and men who are not teaching should be at peace with those who are teaching by agreeably sitting and learning as disciples.

    When Jesus taught his disciples, He did on occasion ask them questions so that they could convey what they understood about the matter at hand. I believe that women who peaceably sit as disciples in a Sunday School class may answer such questions. Doing so would not upset the authority structure.

  40. roberty bob said,

    July 12, 2019 at 4:24 pm

    The women in my class do not have their heads covered. The women in my class are not called upon to pray.

    Thank you for the question, Steve

  41. rfwhite said,

    July 12, 2019 at 4:38 pm

    39 RB: Tracking with you … Thinking about when Jesus taught His disciples, it seems clear that Luke was intent on presenting the woman Mary (of Mary and Martha fame, Luke 10.38-42) to the man Theophilus as a disciple to be emulated.

  42. roberty bob said,

    July 12, 2019 at 5:36 pm

    What a beautiful presentation it is! I couldn’t agree more.

    Thank you for engaging in this conversation. You’ve addressed my concerns — and I hope some of Paige’s too, although I do not know the nature of her concerns — with Biblical clarity! Most helpful. — fb

    And to Ron — all riddling aside — thank you, too!

  43. rfwhite said,

    July 18, 2019 at 10:22 am

    One review of the book to which Paige called attention appears here:

    http://www.reformation21.org/featured/colaborers-co-heirs.php


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