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When No Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God by Aimee Byrd came out, I bought copies for many of the key women in the church. I thought it would help them as they think about ministry to women in our congregation. They have been meeting periodically to discuss what they are reading.

My wife, after she read it, thought I should read it. It is also intended for the officers of the church to help them think through their congregation’s ministry to women. As a result, it was one of the books for my vacation/study leave.

“This is a book that aims to help the whole church by examining church initiatives for a group that makes up over half of our congregations- the women. … My hope is that this book will help both pastors and elders to shepherd the women in their congregations, and to encourage women to thrive under the ministry of Word and sacrament, so that it flows out to the whole church, to their homes, and to their communities.” From the Introduction

Aimee Byrd has been blogging as the Housewife Theologian for years. This has turned into being an author and a cohost of The Mortification of Spin podcast with Carl Trueman and Todd Pruitt. She, along with her husband and three children, are members of an OPC church.

She approaches this subject from a complementarian viewpoint. She affirms male headship of home and church. But she also pushes back against some forms of complementarianism as well as patriarchy. For instance, she takes issue with Piper on his views on which jobs are suitable for women outside the church. I think she is right to do so. In my opinion, in this view Piper sounds like he holds to patriarchy (he doesn’t, but is so far right on some points that it’s “leaky”, even though he affirmed women deacons on the left side of the spectrum). Byrd uses Pearl as an example of some bad theology, particular excerpts that espouse a form of patriarchy (the view that women are subject to men irrespective of their relationship).

She doesn’t see women as inferior or second class citizens of the kingdom of God. She has a vibrant view of ezer, or helper/ally. Women are called alongside their husbands to fulfill the creation mandate, not just to make babies and clean house. They are to study and learn, teach, encourage and serve the broader church. She wants to empower women to serve to the fullest of their abilities within the bounds God has established (though she doesn’t really interact with the different views on this, even among complementarians). Now that you know where she is coming from ….

Byrd breaks the book up into 4 parts. She begins with Pinpointing a Real Problem, then Examining Our Context, to Working toward a Solution and lastly Honing our Skills. There is a logical movement within the book. In the process there is plenty of theology, examples for illustration, and helpful ideas. There are also a few minor idiosyncrasies (I’m sure I’ve got a few myself). It is well-written and accomplishes its purpose. There was only one chapter in which I was left scratching my head because I was thinking “And…” since it really didn’t (in my opinion) answer the question.

What is the problem? It is two-fold in a sense. First, ministry to women is often isolated from the rest of the church. The officers of the church don’t want to be bothered and grant the women a fiefdom free from interference. Second, the books written for women are often filled with bad theology that often undermines the theology of the congregation. Byrd goes back to the temptation of Eve to understand this. Satan started with attacking Eve to undermine Adam. As Satan continues to war against the saints, he still employs this strategy. Why is this so important know? Often it is the women who are teaching the children. Multiple generations can be infected with bad theology or methods of interpretation.

“In his malevolent shrewdness, Satan when for the woman. He went after Adam’s gift from God, his bride. That was indeed a clever way to get to Adam. So it isn’t surprising today that Satan goes after Christ’s bride, his church, with the same distortion of God’s word.” (pp. 20)

She is right to point out these errors in books marketed especially for women. Many authors & speakers undermine the authority of the Scriptures by claiming to “hear” from God apart from the Scriptures (which is how the Spirit speaks, thru the Scriptures read or preached). Many are prone to eisegesis (reading into the text) rather than exegesis (reading out of the text). And there are all manner of doctrinal issues with regard to the Trinity, Christ, sin, redemption. Many promote false gospels as well. There is a profound lack of discernment, largely because church leaders haven’t been developing the skills for discernment to the women of the church (and often because pastors can exhibit some of these same problems in their sermons).

Aimee references how Paul addresses this problem in 2 Timothy 3:6-7.

For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth.

She spends quite a few pages interacting with this text. Women then were being targeted. In particular, weak women. Not all women are weak, or better translated gullible. False teachers don’t seek to corrupt competent and equipped women. Like wolves they look for those who are gullible, guilty and immature. In Timothy’s context and ours, those wolves were in the church. Godly leaders must seek these women out too and help them to become competent and equipped.

She develops the idea of woman as a necessary ally (ezer). She is in covenant with the man she helps, they are married. Women  are not helpers to men generally, but a specific man. God is also a necessary ally to those to whom He is covenantally bound. The OT use of this term for God means such an ally is not servile or inferior. The ally has resources and a commitment to use them for the well-being of the other. Byrd notes a quote by Spurgeon long before Toula’s mother said the same thing to her.

Theology is essential for women, not just men. Paul supported the idea of women learning, just as Jesus did. In this way the neck can turn the head in good directions.

Having identified the problem(s), she addresses the context in which we live. She goes back to Genesis 1-3. Eve, as Adam’s ally, entertained Adam’s enemy. Even in really good places like the Garden love is vulnerable. Satan didn’t want them to expand the garden-temple throughout the earth. What was important was God’s mission. Marriage, among believers, is about God’s mission. They work together to accomplish it, not their own personal dreams and kingdoms. She does some theology connected Adam the First with Adam the Second (aka, Jesus) to understand creation, fall & redemption. Christ is restoring our relationships, our households and our churches (the household of God) as He applies redemption in both justification and sanctification. Here she mentions another problem, women’s ministry often focuses on “being a woman”, not simply on being a mature Christian who happens to be a woman. But her primary focus is developing a robust view of competent, godly women. In their household and God’s. She mentions the many women in both the OT and NT who were highly involved in God’s mission as prophets, patrons, servants, etc.

In her zeal for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, she has one of her idiosyncrasies. She doesn’t like the term women’s ministry, thinking it devalues the ministry of Word and Sacrament. We don’t need to talk about women’s initiatives (or men’s, children’s etc.). I think we can all understand that though separate, they are not ultimately distinct. We are serving these portions of the church by and thru the Word even if it isn’t the Word preached.

When she moves toward a solution, she begins with the question of men learning from women. This was the headscratcher of a chapter. On the positive side she mentions how all of us learn from women who are in Scripture, like the songs of Hannah and Mary. There are also those instances when women taught men directly (Hulda, Pricilla). Those passages aren’t “for women only”. This is also a chapter in which she pushes back against some of Piper’s stranger comments.  There was also an odd rabbit trail on Anne Hutchinson and Aimee Semple McPherson. It reiterated the idea that in the quest to be heard, some women talk about hearing direct messages from God. This would be more suitable in the first section of the book. The head scratching came in discussing parachurch ministries and the use of women speakers at conferences. Conferences are confusing. They have times of worship utilizing many of the elements of worship, and I’m not sure how you differentiate between a conference speech/lecture and a sermon. She seemed to not be quite clear. I will not be excommunicated for disagreeing with any teaching given at a conference (though some churches should consider excommunicating people who go to particular conferences, I am sort of kidding). Conferences are voluntary and there is no “membership” or discipline. Personally I have no problem with a woman speaking at such a conference intended for mixed audience. Perhaps it is my experiences at Ligonier where women like Elizabeth Elliot and Joni would speak. They didn’t clear out the men, and I don’t think they should. I can learn from women, and should learn from women. Like reading this book. I just felt like she didn’t answer the question, and experienced some cognitive dissonance.

In later chapters she focuses on what it looks like to be a competent ally. While there were some good thoughts there, I wish she could have developed a few more and been a bit less reliant on John McKinley, adding some of her own ideas to the mix. She identifies the three traits of a competent ally as equipped, having resolve and discerning. This last one takes up much of the rest of the book as Byrd discusses how to read, how to interpret and how to assess false teaching (not all false teaching is equal since not all doctrines have equal priority). This is the most practical section, obviously. And she doesn’t short-change it. She then provides examples for the reader to apply what they have learned with excerpts of books with bad theology, methods of interpretation or statements that undermine the Scriptures. You are encouraged to note the problems to develop greater discernment. She provides a caveat, she doesn’t want to put authors on a “do not read” list. This is not a discernment blog approach, and we shouldn’t have such an approach. Discernment isn’t just about spotting the bad, but also affirming the good.

She wraps up with a chapter on preaching and teaching to women. The focus is on men, the officers of the church. She wants to help us help the women under our care. This is in keeping with her stated purpose for the book.

I think she did a good job fulfilling the purpose of the book. At times she put material that may have been better suited for another section. But as one whose book is in the process of being published, I recognize how hard it can be to do. There is no air lock between sections, sealing content or ideas. There was enough theology to keep me engaged (not simply personal stories strung together to make a point) and she applied it well. I think this is a good book for church officers and key women to read so congregations can better minister to (serve) the women in their midst so they become fully mature in Christ.

 

 

 

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In moving thru 1 Corinthians we’ve affirmed the reality of covenant relationships, and therefore covenant heads. This reality needs to be reflected in our worship. Paul addresses this when women pray and prophesy.

We went back to this in terms of prayer and prophecy. Does this refer to women covering their heads when the pastor prays, or the congregation recites a prayer; or is the issue (as most Knight and others thought) a wife or woman praying extemporaneously? The question of ancient liturgies like St. James’ and St. Mark’s emerged. They had many prayers recited. While closer in time to the worship of the early church than ours, it might look more like their worship. Maybe.

Since it is connected to prophesying, the issue seems to be when a woman stands out among the congregation and therefore wearing a symbol of their submission to their covenant head or the created order. Those ancient liturgies didn’t offer room for these practices. The worship in Corinth seems to be different than that reflected in ancient liturgies, and our own worship today.

The question arose about prayer meetings. When women pray (pray aloud, differentiated from everyone else) she should continue to honor the created order and her covenant head.

Here in the U.S. the wearing of head coverings was throughout the whole service. That might be easier than putting it on and taking it off, but doesn’t seem to be required by the text. This practice seems to have declined with the rise of evangelical feminism and liberal theology.

Personally, I still lean toward these coverings being applications of the principle of honoring your covenant head. I struggle with trying to merely mimic what we think the practice was. This could be a remnant of my own cultural captivity. I don’t know. But I don’t want to major on a minor (this is only found once and seems far less significant as a result).

Now we move along in 1 Corinthians.

ESV NASB NIV
For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man. For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man nor man of woman; 12 for as woman was made from man, so man is now born of woman. And all things are from God. For a man ought not to have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man does not originate from woman, but woman from man; for indeed man was not created for the woman’s sake, but woman for the man’s sake. 10 Therefore the woman ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 However, in the Lord, neither is woman independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as the woman originates from the man, so also the man has his birth through the woman; and all things originate from God. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. 10 It is for this reason that a woman ought to have authority over her own head, because of the angels. 11 Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For as woman came from man, so also man is born of woman. But everything comes from God.

Barnett believes Paul brings them back to the marriage of Adam and Eve here to establish the created order. At the very least vv. 12 is about Adam and Eve based on context.  It is odd that Paul doesn’t use their names which would have made this easier for them and use to understand exactly what is going in here.

Some questions quickly come to mind.

  1. Why does the ESV use “wife” instead of “woman” in verse 10? Why no consistency in usage based on the context?
  2. Why do most translations add phrases (see the words in italics in the NASB)? Clarity matters, yes.  Adding “a symbol of” can change the meaning as we’ll see below.
  3. How do the angels fit in?

vv. 7

For a man/husband ought not to cover (infinitive) the head, for he is the image and glory of God but the woman/wife is the glory of man

This includes some incomplete parallelism. She’s also in the image of God (Gen. 1). But Paul wouldn’t deny this. What is he getting at? This is still in the context of honoring and dishonoring your covenant head. Or better, the created order. Earlier Paul said Christ was the head of man. But in the created order we see Adam was created for God’s glory. We also see that Eve was created for Adam’s glory. The concept of “helpmate corresponding to him” matters. Men bring glory or dishonor to God by their actions. Women not only bring glory or dishonor to God but also their husbands by their actions. We see a glimpse of this in Proverbs 31 where her husband and children rise up and call the valiant woman blessed in the city gate.

“… for it is a great honor that God has appointed her to the man as the partner of his life, and a helper to him, and has made her subject to him as the body is to the head.” John Calvin

“She is related to man as his glory, a relationship that somehow appears to be jeopardized by her present actions.” Gordon Fee

“She is his ‘glory’ since she fulfills him at his deepest wellsprings of companionship, sexual fellowship and shared procreation.” Paul Barnett

vv. 8-9

For a man/husband is not out of a woman, but woman out of man, and man was not created through the woman, but woman through the man

Paul is obviously addressing creation here! The submission of a wife to a husband is rooted in creation, not the fall. The fall makes it a contentious and often abusive matter so headship is marked by sin and misery. The problem is the people involved, not the fact of headship. Eve was created ‘out of’ Adam, from his rib (Gen. 2). She was created for Adam, so he could fulfill God’s mandate. He could not fulfill God’s mandate alone.

“Man by himself is not complete; he is alone, without a companion or helper suitable to him.” Gordon Fee

vv. 10

Therefore the woman/wife ought to have authority upon/on/over her head on account of the angels/messengers.

This is one of the more difficult sentences that we come across. As we noted above, “symbol” is typically added.

“It is possible, however, that the major translations have erred by inserting the words ‘a sign/symbol of.’ It is more in keeping with the Greek original to translate the verse ‘the woman ought to have authority over her head,’ meaning that women ought to exercise authority over their physical heads. This understanding indicates that Paul wanted women to act responsibly and on their own in the matter of head coverings. This more literal reading is confirmed by the next statement, ‘However, woman is not independent of man’. This clause appears to qualify an assertion of the women’s authority encouraged in 11:10.” Richard Pratt

As a result, it can be taken more literally as taking authority over her physical head, or being responsible. The idea is she should take responsibility for her actions, not that the husband should “make” her do this. This would be similar to Ephesians 5. The husband is not told to make his wife submit. He is told to love her like Christ loves the Church.

“But finally we must beg ignorance. Paul seems to be affirming the ‘freedom’ of women over their own heads; but what that means in this context remains a mystery.” Gordon Fee

Calvin seems to affirm that the token of her submission is at best unclear. He may also seem to be noting some level of contextualization for that token. This makes me feel better about not being certain what exactly the wives of Corinth were expected to do, and therefore what my wife might be expected to do.

“… for he means a token by which she declares herself to be under the power of her husband; and it is a covering, whether it be a robe, or a veil, or any other kind of covering.” John Calvin

Unfortunately Calvin does affirm a form of partriarchy in his comments on this passage. Sometimes I disagree with Calvin, and this is one of them. I reject that notion that women are subject to men. In the Bible I see the command to be in submission direct to wives toward their husbands, not men. That is a very important distinction. For instance, as an American I submit to the government of the United States including our President. I don’t care what Castro and Cuba say. I obey their laws while I may travel there since I don’t want to dishonor God and end up on a Cuban prison. But I don’t submit to all governments at all times.

“It is however a mistake (to limit this to wives), for Paul looks beyond this- to God’s eternal law, which has made the female sex subject to the authority of men. On this account all women are born, that they may acknowledge themselves inferior in consequences of the superiority of the male sex.” John Calvin

Angels can refer to supernatural beings or human messengers. In 1 Peter 2:9, for instance, the word commonly translated “proclaim” is a verbal form of angel.  Pratt for instance thinks this might refer to earthly visitors from other churches. These messengers, like those who bore this letter, could be scandalized by the women’s behavior. This could break the peace of the churches. Our they could wrong import the wrong practice of Corinth back to their home church or other churches and corrupt them.

Calvin notes that priests are called “angels” in Mal. 2:7. He thinks pastors were not referred to in this way, but this may be what is happening in Revelation 2-3. The angels of the churches could refer to their pastors, not angelic beings.

Another option  is presented by Fee: that this reflects the argument of the “liberated” women in Corinth who think they are now like the angels and need no such sign. This brings us back to the over-realized eschatology but doesn’t quite fit the grammar. He also notes it may also include the idea that they already speak in the tongues of angels. That reference in 1 Cor. 13 is probably rhetorical. The tongues in Corinth would be the same as the tongues in Acts 2- known languages understood by others.

“The apostles do not argue just for some authority in marriage, but explicitly and particularly for man’s authority and headship over woman and woman’s submission to man.” George Knight

vv. 11-12

however neither is (the) woman/wife apart/separate from (the) man/husband, nor is (the) man/husband apart/separate from (the) woman/wife in the Lord. For as the woman/wife (is) out of/from the man/husband, so also the man/husband through the woman/wife and all things out of/from God.

In union with Christ, spouses are not independent or separated from one another. Independent is probably not the best sense of the word. In the marriage union we are ‘one flesh’. We can wrongly act independently of our spouse, as if we aren’t married but this seems to go deeper.

Redemption does not undo creation. Redemption does not undo the marriage union until glorification. Yet men cannot preserve themselves (as a race) apart from women. We should not throw off the various yokes God has placed on us. We should also affirm our interdependence in the state of marriage. We may have different roles, but we very much need the role fulfilled by the spouse. This is not suspended while you are in public worship. You remain married, and need to continue honoring that marriage, your spouse and God’s order while in worship.

independent (cwris) adv. Separate, apart, without any, besides

 

“To be sure, a woman is that glory of a man, being created from him and for him, and therefore bearing the make of his authority on her.” Paul Barnett

“Husbands must not think that their headship implies independence from or superiority over their wives. Their dependence on their wives qualified their roles as heads. … To be sure, husbands have a headship role, but this role does not eliminate the need for wives to cultivate their own relationships with Christ.” Richard Pratt

Take Aways:

  • We can’t reject the possibility that feminism has infected/influenced many conservative churches in this matter. Perhaps the lack of coverings in our churches comes from this.
  • There may be worship practices that make a woman stand out. If she does, her goal should be to honor God and her head rather than herself.
  • Married women who serve in the church are not independent of their husbands but should continue to honor them in how they serve. This means involving him in decisions rather than willfully making decisions since they may affect family life in unintended or unanticipated ways.

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In a recent Session meeting, one of the elders asked a particular question that related to the issue of men and women in the church. It was a question about which people have differing opinions, even if they are in general agreement regarding the larger issue.

I sent him some exegetical and historical work I’d done on the pertinent texts in years past. I also sent him links to a few books on the topic. One was a book I had not seen before, and decided to read for myself. That was Kevin DeYoung’s Freedom and Boundaries: A Pastoral Primer on the Role of Women in the Church.  I was particularly interested because DeYoung serves in the RCA, a denomination in which many egalitarians have found a home. He is a complementarian, so I wondered how he handled this particular issue.

He wrote the book (published in 2006) for congregations similar to his own which did not have “official” positions on the subject. He wanted the book to be understandable for lay people. He wanted to display an irenic spirit. The goal was not to bash those who disagree with him. He did not want to descend into vitriol or presenting strawman arguments (how a view is presented would not be recognizable to those who hold the view).

I believe he succeeded in both cases.

Much of the book is taken up with looking at the passages at the heart of this discussion (Genesis 1-3; 1 Corinthians 11; 1 Corinthians 14; 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Timothy 3. He also handles some common objections as well as briefly outlining the many things he believes women can do in the church. In the appendices he includes his sermon on Ephesians 5 and the similarity in arguments for those espousing egalitarianism and the acceptance of homosexual behavior in the church.

“Controversy, because it makes us think more carefully and support our ideas more substantially, can actually strengthen the church.”

He begins with a series of questions to “set the stage” for the larger discussion. He affirms that this is not a “salvation” issue (I disagreed with one of my favorite professors in this issue, and have friends with whom I disagree). It is a question for the well-being of the church. As such, we should investigate it.

(more…)

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