Women’s Ordination and the Rejection of the Created Order

Stephen B. Clark’s last chapter in his great book Man and Woman in Christ  covers ordination, occupation and legislation. He makes three points about women’s ordination that are worth quoting. All words in the quote blocks are him, except for brackets. First;

The study done here [his book] reveals that both Scripture and tradition teach very clearly that the positions of overall government in the Christian community are to be held by men. This is one of the clearest and most consistent principles concerning the structure and order of the Christian people from the time of Christ and the apostles until a very recent period of Christian history. If any authoritative statements about order among the Christian people are undisputed in scripture and tradition, this is surely one of them. To change it is not simply a matter of changing one rule: If this principle can be changed, the Christian people can change any feature of order, and they are not bound by scripture and tradition in shaping their life together. The judgment to ordain women, then, involve the judgment that modern society has reached the point where scripture and tradition cannot definitely guide the structuring of the common life of Christians.

His first point is that ordaining women is a complete rejection of the teaching of Scripture and the history of God’s people. By the way, when he says, “Christian community” he does not mean just church.

Clark goes on to say

Second, the study done in this book indicates that the question of who should be the heads of the Christian people is actually a question of God’s purposes for the human race and how the new humanity [Christians] should be formed. Government of the Christian people is not merely a secondary question of social roles that can be changed with little consequence. Rather, the question involves a broader vision of what human life should be like according to God’s ideal. The ordering of governmental responsibilities is only an expression of that underlying vision. Deciding to have women acting as heads of the Christian people means deciding that the scriptural vision of the life of humans together is no longer applicable or appropriate. A decision about structure and order in this area is a decision about what a body of Christians is trying to be. 

Clark’s second point, derived from his study of Genesis 1-3, is that traditional male/female roles are inherent in the created order and are necessary for the flourishing of the human race.  Christ came to restore the human race through making new creatures.  Becoming a new creature in Christ includes maintaining this distinction between men and women. The rejection of this distinction does not just change the church structure, but is an explicit rejection of God’s goal for the human race. It is odd that many feminists and evangelicals believe that a true restoration of the human race would abolish all these differences.

In his third point he addressing churches, which do not want to ordain women:

These churches are trying to maintain this position without attempting to provide a corresponding social structure to support it. For instance, they do not any longer normally teach very clearly about a difference in the roles of men and women. Yet, unless they do, their position on ordination will become more and more difficult for their people to understand and accept. When rules of order do not structure social life in a helpful way, such rules are often experienced as both restrictive and senseless. Of course these churches could claim a basis other than social structure for holding that women should not be ordained.  That is, they can, for example insist that ordination is a sacramental matter which operates by an entirely different set of rules than the rest of life, and which should have no consequences for social structure…In short, if the churches that presently maintain the prohibition of women’s ordination do not (1) back up their position with clear instruction on family structure, and (2) provide their people with adequate social support to live a way of life different from the technological society around them (one which includes the role difference between men and women) these churches will fail to resolve the current controversy in this area.  Either the issue of women’s ordination will remain a sore point, or it will contribute to an even greater separation between “sacramental” matters and the daily life of the Christian people. 

This final quote is perceptive by Clark. His point is that a refusal to ordain women cannot be properly maintained without being placed in an overarching paradigm of male and female roles that derives from Genesis 1-3, is meant to apply to all humans, and is taught that way to Christian people. Here is how Clark says it in another section of his book:

Christians cannot obey the few clear scriptural directives about order in personal relationships and live in every other respect according to the functional relationships of the modern world and still expect to experience the scriptural directives as an unqualified blessing. 

He lists only two options when the paradigm does not hold: continued contention or sharp dualism. But there is a third option: compromise. Many Christians long before they promoted women elders rejected the traditional reading of male and female roles outlined in Genesis 1-3 as a normative goal for all societies at all times and therefore one that is to be lived by all Christians. For a while the line holds because there is chapter and verse that says, “No women elders.” However, once the traditional reading is rejected, eventually someone says, “I Timothy 2:11-12 and Ephesians 5, as traditionally taught, do not fit our new paradigm.” Those texts, along with others that teach the traditional reading, are eventually reinterpreted to fit the previous reinterpretation of Genesis 1-3. Unless Ephesians 5, I Timothy 2 and texts like these are just a normal extension of God’s purposes for creating the human race then they become “senseless” and arbitrary.