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Sunday, June 26, 2005

Women in ministry: Transcultural?

I am referring to a previous post, and to a comment on that post.

The commenter referred to an article from Apologetics Press. As the commenter says, it's a fairly long article. This quote contains the central claim, referring to 1 Corinthians 11 and 14: ". . . both passages demonstrate the clear application of the transcultural principle (female subordination in worship) to a specific cultural circumstance. The underlying submission principle remains intact as an inbuilt constituent element of the created order." In other words, the author states that subordination of women in worship is not a cultural matter, but is built into creation, like, say, gravity.

That can, of course, be argued, and has been, by those who claim that female subordination in worship is not transcultural, but that the passages which seem to teach it were related to specific cultural situations, not necessarily applicable to, say, 21st Century North America. Such arguments generally appeal to such scriptures as Acts 2:16-21, and to the fact that there were prophetesses in the Old Testament (Exodus 15:20, Micah 6:4, Judges 4, 2 Kings 22:14-23:3), and the New (Acts 21:9), and that even 1 Corinthians 11 does not say that women are not to pray or prophesy, but that their head is to be covered when they do. (The article cited concedes that head covering, at least, was cultural.)

Here's Acts 2:
17-18 (ASV, emphasis added): 17 And it shall be in the last days, saith God, I will pour forth of my Spirit upon all flesh: And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, And your young men shall see visions, And your old men shall dream dreams:18 Yea and on my servants and on my handmaidens in those days Will I pour forth of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy.

My impression is that everybody, including me, has a tendency to think that scriptural admonitions that we agree with are transcultural, and those that we don't like very much aren't. Clearly, that's a danger.

My wife has been asking me about Acts 15. I don't have many answers, but here are some of her questions, and the matter is related to the idea of transcultural.

Acts 15:28 For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: 29 that ye abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication; from which if ye keep yourselves, it shall be well with you. Fare ye well. (ASV)

The Jerusalem Council had four commands for Gentile Christians. It is interesting that few churches these days have anything at all to say about the first three of them. "Abstaining from things sacrificed to idols" isn't mentioned now because, in the literal sense, no such things now exist. However, Paul said, in 1 Corinthians 8, that the main reason for not eating food offered to idols was not because it had been offered to idols, but because doing so might bother someone with a weak conscience. In 1 Corinthians 10:27, he told the Corinthian church that, if they were invited to eat with an idol-worshiper, they shouldn't ask whether the food had been sacrificed to idols. If they were told that it was, then they should abstain. Thus, even in New Testament times, one of the four prohibitions was weakened somewhat by Paul. Most Christians, I suppose, would say that eating blood, or meat from an animal which did not had the blood drained out of id, is not a sin, which, if true, means that these prohibitions were cultural, not transcultural. (The culture it applied to was one which mostly kept the Jewish dietary laws.) Abstaining from fornication is still taken as transcultural, and there is reason for that, as God's sexual ideal for humans, throughout scripture, is that it should only take place between a male and female who are married to each other.

My point is that it seems hard to tell which of the commandments given to the early church should be taken as transcultural, and which applied to a particular situation or culture. As indicated previously, I believe, along with some who know better than I (check references in that post), that prohibitions against women in spiritual leadership were cultural, and, in the US, at least, they still are. I believe that weakens the church. I certainly respect the views of those who think such prohibitions are transcultural. They could be right. They could also be wrong.

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