Are men and women equally gifted by God?

Ask a Pastor
05/28/2013

Are men and women equally gifted by God?

Why does the ELCA ordain women as pastors when it seems like Paul was pretty clear about women having different roles in the church? -- Brandon Oxford 

Monica: Dear Brandon, I think Paul was a product of his time and context. Much has changed with regard to gender roles. Paul was a theologian, but he wasn't God. Jesus, on the other hand, often flipped tradition upside down with his interactions with women. The Gospels show that women were disciples of Jesus. Women were the first to witness the resurrection and to share the good news! The ELCA ordains women as capable servants called by God to the ministry of word and sacrament because the body of Christ has discerned that it is the will of the Spirit and the call of the church to do so. Paul also contends that there are varieties of gifts, but one spirit. Women and men alike are gifted by God for a variety of vocations including as pastors. 

David: To be clear, I am not convinced that Paul is as clear on this subject as you find him to be. In fact, I find Paul to be downright confusion when it comes to church leadership. He talks about apostles, bishops, elders, deacons, prophets and teachers -- but most of these terms do not seem to correlate directly to the way that we use them today. Not only that, but Paul and other early Christian authors do not seem to always use these terms in the same way.

We could talk about the women who appear to have been in leadership in the apostolic church, but that misses the point, I think. Proof texting never gets us anywhere, on either side.

Instead, I find clarity in the story of Paul and Titus. The Christian church began as a movement open only to Jews, and in order to become a Christian you had to first become a Jew. This changes with Paul's ministry, and we see in Acts 15 the church changing its position on this. And even then Paul has Timothy circumcised before the two of them go out preaching. But later, when Paul goes out preaching with Titus -- also an uncircumcised Greek -- he does not have him circumcised.

When it comes to leadership in the church, the ELCA is open to listening to the Holy Spirit. It made sense for a time for there to be only Jewish leaders in the church -- until it didn't make sense any longer. So too it made sense for a time for there to be only male leaders in the church -- until it didn't make sense any longer. 

Ron: Dear Brandon, I feel the best way to answer your question is to basically challenge or reject the premise of the question which is "St. Paul was pretty clear about women having different roles in the church." For the passage that really is at the foundation of ordaining women is Galatians 3:28: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." The key phrase here is "in Christ Jesus." So St. Paul who as one person once commented, "never rejected a social condition that existed," wrote magnificently and wondrously about what it means to be transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ. When reading Scripture we look at specific passages, but also lets look at the whole or totality of Scripture. Some people understand that Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9) was the first "evangelist" because she was the first to encounter the risen Christ and ran to tell everyone about it.

There are some excellent articles in the Journal of Lutheran Ethics regarding ordination of women. I recommend the following one to you, by Dr. Karen Bloomquist.


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