As we enter dialogue on gender, or rather, as I’ve proposed, moving past using gender to decide privilege in the church, it’s important to first realize the troubling influence from the (male) leadership in the early church. Their ideas continue to heavily impact the attitudes and practices of the contemporary church, and cause confusion.
Doctrine based on secular thought and culture:
When reading the thoughts of the early church fathers, we notice the heavy influence of secular Greek thought that disparaged women, and valued the spiritual far and above the physical/material, as well as and male over female. (see a bit on Dualism)
The Incarnation trumps cultural assumptions:
The Incarnation, however, fully appreciated the spiritual and the material, both. God reaffirms the dignity of the physicality and spirituality of the human being, and all of his physical Creation. A materialistic/dualistic approach (which still can be found subtly in Christianity, even today), undercuts what God has done in the life, ministry, and sacrifice of Jesus, the Christ.
The ministry of Jesus, the Son of God, and the first generation of the Christian church was most scandalous in its progressive exercise of women in positions of influence and leadership (i.e. apostles, prophetesses, deacons, teachers, etc.). This thoroughly counter-cultural new sect and off-shoot of Judaism, who affirmed that Jesus of Nazareth, was and is divine, soon succumbed to typical male-dominated power and authority, and instead, mirrored the secular cultural worldview.
Most influential church fathers who articulated the earliest of Christine doctrine and practice, were much like their academic or secular peers in their misogyny. Typical (and secular) morays resumed.
Swiss Cheese Foundation Walls (Holey not Holy):
It seems that conversations and debates about men and women, and their roles in the church have only ever built on the thoughts of these errant church fathers, or, contrastingly, openly revolted against them (i.e. feminist theology). But, these are both tired and worn out arguments and vantage points that now have limited usefulness. We continue to merely speak past each other.
The man known in Christianity as, “The founder of Western Theology” is Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, best known in English as Tertullian (c. 160 – c. 220 AD).
He covered apologetics, heresy, morals, church discipline, baptism, soteriology, and made a huge impact on one of Christianity’s most influential leaders, Augustine of Hippo.
Though Tertullian was well know for elucidating important issues of church life, as well as the gracious treatment of widows, his thoughts and comments about females are truly shocking to our contemporary ears. Read some for yourself: De Cultu Feminarum Book I. Chapter I.—-Introduction. Modesty in Apparel Becoming to Women, in Memory of the Introduction of Sin into the World Through a Woman.
Here are some Tertullian highlights:
• Man, not woman, is created in the image of God.
• Woman was and is the source of temptation.
• Like Eve, each woman is also:
- the devil’s gateway
- the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree.
- the first deserter of the divine law.
- the one who persuaded him (Adam) whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack.
- the one who destroyed so easily God’s image, man.
- the reason the Son of God had to die.
Admittedly, this glimpse is just that–a glimpse. A careful study of his ideas would be wise.
BUT-Is it really any wonder that women were relegated to inferior status ontologically, and within the community of believers? It’s not a surprise that women still are, only a disappointment.
Yes, Christianity has a sordid past. Humans are flawed. Yet, God’s plan is to use us (all) to bring about his ongoing redemption. I venture that we likely got off on the wrong track long ago. Many of the church fathers’ thoughts were wrong, in the first place. The time is ripe to begin afresh. Big improvements don’t really happen through recycling old methods, but rather by re-creating them from different commencement points.
Defining “Capacitarian” (now pushed to a future post) will have everything to do with seeing things anew, from the vantage point of a gracious Creator, as much as possible. Our dignity and worth is truly sourced in God, not on the cultural bias of early church leaders.
We must jettison malformed doctrine.
Now, I ask you, if we are to re-envision and redefine the role of citizens in God’s Kingdom (versus deciding “men and women’s roles in the church” based predominantly on body parts) than what should be our foundation as we go forward?
What do you propose to re-shape our thinking? Submit your thoughts and ideas here, please. Please, help and enlist the contribution of others as well. A tweet or link is a great place to start.
UPDATE: Here is a link from Dan, I had to pass along. It’s by Ben Witherington.