THE MINISTRY OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH

English summary of De Dienst der Vrouw in de Kerk

door Dr. Gerh. Huls. Dissertatie Utrecht 1951. Promotor: Dr. S. Berkelbach van der Prenkel (Prof. Kerkrecht)
publ. H.Veenman & Zonen, Wageningen, 1951

I

1. For a good understanding of the position of woman ïn the New Testament an inquiry was instituted in the first chapter, after her place in the O.T., under the Romans, in the Greek-hellenistic world and among the Jews in Jesus' days.

2. In comparison with this, Jesus' appreciation of woman means an utter revolution, as He recognizes her as a complete personality beside man. After the day of Pentecost, on which both men and women are filled with the Holy Ghost, the latter take an active part in the services of the Church. This is confirmed by St. Paul’s letters: women act as prophetesses, lead the congregational prayers, co-operate in the works of charity, act as teachers etc., which is based on principle (Gal 3:28). Only with a view to married women St Paul finds himself obliged to make some restrictions.

Owing to the order, laid down in marriage by God, which requires from woman hupotagè (subordination) towards her husband, in l Cor 14:34f he declines her participation in the discussions of the community, while l Tim 2:11ff prohibits her didaskein (teaching), because in the circumstances of the time, this subordination would have been endangered by this. In contrast with this, however, women kept rendering services, when these were more organised (Rom 16:1f; l Tim 3:11, 5:9f).

3. Also in the Early Church woman at first occupied a great place: in preaching as a missionary, in the congregation as a teacher and prophetess, while she may have administered the sacraments. Added to this come the ministries of widows and deaconesses, the latter having played a much greater part in the East than in the West, though they existed here for centuries. At last, however, they are ousted from the official ministry of the Church by hierarchical-sacerdotal influences, connected with an increasing depreciating opinion about women.

4. The Reformation has not given back to woman her place in the ministry of the Church, equivalent to that of man, though Luther and Calvin made a timid beginning with this. Nor have later attempts yielded a permanent result. Outside the Church, in sects etc. woman occupies a far greater place.

5. At the moment the problem of the ministry of woman in Church has come up for discussion nearly everywhere. The 'Diakonissen' re-instituted by Fliedner seek communication with the Church, while in most countries discussions are being held about admitting woman to all ministries, which has already taken place in some Churches.

II

1. The objections against the ministry of woman are mainly derived from the character of the 'office' in Church. When, however, we consult the N.T., it appears that the only thing people can do in Church is ‘serving’, as every form of the Old-Testamentic leitourgia (cultic priesthood) has been settled by Jesus Christ. All services rendered in Church are founded on a charisma of which Christ (the Ghost) has distrïbuted a great multitude.

The Church namely lives as the body of Christ and every member in it has a special function, for which it (he) first received such a charisma. So there is not any qualitative difference between the services, nor does this arise when some of these services are openly recognized, e.g. by election, for the sake of order in Church. It is not right to call them 'offices' and to distinguish them on principle from the other services. Even though the exercising of certain charismata may be restricted (l Cor 14:27ff), it is of importance that in the N.T. not any charisma is denied to woman on principle.

2. Calvin did not break radically enough with the deformation of these ideas in the R.C. clerical conception, because he restricted the number of ministries to 4 (or 3) and also isolated them too much from the services instructed to everyone, so that in the entirety of the Church they became too independent. In this respect he appears to have been influenced by his time and by the requirements of practice in Geneva. Consequently too many institutional elements have forced their way into the presbyterian Churches at the cost of the organic functioning of the Church as the body of Christ, which i.a. is expressed in a severe restriction of the number of ministries, which besides, have been disjoined from the priesthood of all believers and whose character of ‘service’ is risked, also because they are all connected with the ‘governing’, whereas nearly all the other services are defined as ‘ordines minores’.

3. Also through the modern women's movement the Church nowadays begins to rediscover what important charismata are given to woman, the disuse of which can only cause great damage. Also for the gigantic task the Church has in the modern world, she may trust that she does not lack any charisma (l Cor l:7). A thorough revision of the ‘conception of office’ will, however, be necessary to make all these charismata function, whereby also those of woman ought to get the possibility of complete unfolding. As a sign that she respects the hupotagè instituted by God, the Church might e.g. deny married woman preaching in public. Further restrictions may not be imposed upon her, because neither the nature of ‘governing’ in Church - which has more the nature of „guidance” - nor psychological, physiological, practical or oecumenical aspects produce sufficient arguments for this.


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