Why not confess our faith by cultivating masculinity and femininity in our church life...

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(NOTE FROM TB: Under another post, a series of questions were asked concerning Clearnote Church, Bloomington's practice of women in leadership. Here I respond to those questions.)

Dear (Sister),

I'm responding to your questions below. Thanks for asking them--they're the same questions everyone has. And by the way, I'm sorry it's taken so long. I've been doing a bunch of things that have precluded my active involvement in Baylyblog recently.

>>From what I understand the PCA to believe, it makes sense that you don't have women pastors or women on your governing board (elder board).

Isn't that a sort of weak-kneed way of putting it--that not having woman elders ordained to rule and teach and govern the men and women of Clearnote Church is what we or the PCA "believe," and that it "makes sense" given those idiosyncratic beliefs?

Since Scripture isn't clear on it, we can debate polity. But once we have elders who guard and rule and exhort and teach and govern the flock, there is no debate whether those elders should or should not be men. Scripture requires it and it has been the universal practice of the Church until the past fifty or so years of unprecedented rebellion against the Father Almighty.

>>But I'm not sure why you bar women from other activities during a worship service.

We don't, dear sister. Here's a link to our church policies concerning sex and leadership. In that document, we explicitly state that it's acceptable for women to make announcements, read Scripture portions, and pray during Lord's Day corporate worship. Women have done so and occasionally do so in our worship. I'm not sure why you thought otherwise.

But there's something beneath your statements that I want to address. Implicit in these questions is that the proper orientation of Christians today should be toward opening up more leadership positions for women...

After all, the world sees us as insecure men looking for opportunities to extend our sexual hegemony for generations to come, and those women who are so self-deprecating or insecure that they find such insecure men attractive, so why not shake the world off the trail by promoting women to public positions of leadership? Why not have women serve the Lord's Supper? Why not have women read Scripture? Why not have women make all the announcements? Why not have women usher? Why not have women lead the people in prayer? Why not have women "at the table" (as they say) in elders and deacons meetings where they may finally provide their unique insight and wisdom? Why not, if doing so makes it clear we respect women and aren't condescending toward them? And of course this has the added benefit of proving to the world that Christians are reasonable. Evolved. Sufficiently progressive as not to embarrass you if you hang with us. Not clueless fuddy duddys, but hip posers who know which microbrew is in the ascendancy this very, very second! 

>>Please understand that I'm not knocking your views. I'm somewhat confused. Other Anglican denominations more conservative than the one to which I belong (the Anglican Church in North America) may hold to many of the same views as yours about what is appropriate for women to do in public worship, but they almost always have at least one woman on their governing body (vestry), while you don't. I know that's not the case in Fr. Bill's Anglican denomination, but it's true in others.

Dear sister, I really don't want to get into a discussion of polity, here, but a vestry council has no spiritual authority over men of the sort Scripture demonstrates when it records for us that they appointed elders in every city. Elders are chosen by the people and set apart for their work of teaching and government by the laying on of hands and prayer. I have no problem with any church appointing women to any board or council they want and naming that board and council anything they want and giving that board or council any work they want as long as it doesn't involve women teaching or exercising authority over men. In the Church of Jesus Christ, women are not allowed to do so. This is reserved for men, and the New Testament indicates this responsibility was delegated to men holding the offices of deacon and elder.

>>...why is having a woman lead a congregational prayer taking authority over men? She isn't teaching men how to pray in the same way that she might teach a Sunday School class with both men and women where she teaches on the meaning of each of the clauses in the Lord's Prayer?

Have you ever had someone preach through their prayer? It happens all the time that prayers are actually mini prophetic words or exhortations or rebukes, and it's unseemly because it's unbiblical for women to do so to the men of the congregation. Of course a better way of avoiding this is to teach souls that prayer is speaking to God--not man--and that there's a better way of rebuking or exhorting or encouraging Christians publicly than doing so under cover of prayer.

Beyond that, there's the question of worldview. In our rebellious age, wouldn't it be good to show our faith and generosity toward God's wonderful gift of sexual diversity by looking for opportunities--particularly in public--to have men lead women and children and other men? Why would we want to be a part of the stingy and parsimonious and faithless approach to sex that permeates our world, always looking for ways to blur the nature of manhood and womanhood? To hide the obligations and gifts and duties and beauties of manhood and womanhood?

Which is to say that, after decades of myself looking for every opportunity to show the insignificance of sexuality and how utterly and boringly progressive I was in lockstep with this utterly progressive and boring world of ours, I repented. Now I look for opportunities for women to demonstrate their female nature and men to demonstrate their male nature because doing so is a confession of faith on my part and theirs.

So women lead the congregation in prayer and singing and announcements and the reading of Scripture in our worship, occasionally. Such things we believe do not constitute a violation of the "silence" commanded by Scripture. Yet we do so within two parameters: first, that the general feminine principle we cultivate within our corporate worship is women's silence; and second, that the general masculine principle we cultivate within our corporate worship is men speaking and teaching (which is to say men leading).

We love women being feminine and men being masculine and we look for ways of giving women opportunities to grow in femininity and men in masculinity. Plus God be blessed, we have been given many young men with leadership potential and we do our best to develop it by having them lead and we have been given many young women with leadership potential and we do our best to cultivate it by working with other women, serving their husbands, and becoming mothers and grandmothers and (for the church) mothers in Israel.

>>Is it wrong for a woman to serve as usher? Does a woman usurp authority from men by finding an seat for a man arriving just before the start of the worship service or taking up the offering?

No, but if you have men or boys willing to do so, why on earth would we say "no" to them so we could have future wives and mothers and Lydias doing so? Were all our fathers and mothers in the faith of past generations complete idiots? Misogynists? Just as a thought experiment, let us imagine that they had good and Biblical reasons for their practice, and then do our best to find those reasons before throwing them out?

>>And finally, if a woman is a lay reader of a scripture passage (maybe this is something you allow; I don't know), she's reading from the Bible verbatim, not commenting on the passage. So why could be this considered teaching or taking authority over men?

Women read Scripture in special seasons of the year  

>>Or do you bar women from them because you to give men more opportunities to serve your church?

Well, actually, as I said before, we do not bar women from them. But yes, we do look for opportunities to have men grow in leading the congregation (which is to say other men). This is our contextualization. This is our confession of faith.

And we are fully convinced this is the witness our androgynous age needs from followers of Jesus Christ concerning the beautiful diversity of manhood and womanhood.


Tim Bayly

Tim serves Clearnote Church, Bloomington, Indiana. He and Mary Lee have five children and big lots of grandchildren.

Want to get in touch? Send Tim an email!