On July 27th, 2009 Mike Seaver and I started a ten session debate on Women in Ministry where I was able to ask Mike questions on his position, he answered my questions and then we each had one response. Mike is still considering whether he will continue with another ten sessions where Mike will ask me questions, and I get the privilege to answer his questions on women in ministry.
Today I would like to summarize the ten sessions that I had with Mike.
First of all, I would like to say that I really have enjoyed Mike. He is a very likable soul with a heart for serving Jesus. I haven’t found a lot of complementarians who have been as gracious as Mike. Also, most pastors aren’t interested in public debate so for Mike’s agreement to work with me in a bridge-building kind of debate was very much appreciated.
1. My first question to Mike is about whether 1 Cor. 14:34-35 was referring to a law that was established before or after Paul wrote his two passages on women? If God’s “law” was written after Paul’s words, then I asked why God allowed women to freely use their gifts without restriction in the Old Testament?
Mike’s response from 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 is that although he believes this passage to be about the restriction of women’s public display of discerning and judging prophetic words, he believes that this passage should not be used to restrict women’s teaching in a church. It isn’t that he doesn’t believe that women have restrictions on teaching, but that this passage isn’t the one that is restricting women’s public teaching. This fact is a big bridge building concession by Mike as 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 as been used by many hierarchists to restrict and silence women’s public ministry.
Regarding what 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 actually means, Mike isn’t exactly 100% sure. Mike cannot identify where the “law” is located that is referred to in 1 Cor. 14:34 but he does believe that it was established somewhere in the Old Testament. Mike speaks about “possibly,” “likely,” “probably,” and “I think” concerning a “law” that would regulate women’s ministry.
2. In my response, I brought out the fact that God’s law is always clear and distinct. God is clear about His law because He wants to keep us away from sin and therefore sin must be clearly identified. The fact that no one can identify any “law” where God says that women are to be silent in the assembly is a serious flaw in the complementarian argument. I also brought out the fact that it is a Christian mandate to work on our maturity in judging truth from error because we have been told that in the future we will be judging the world and judging the angels.
I also pointed out to Mike that although he said that there was a “general pattern” of male leadership a “pattern” does not qualify as a law.
In Mike’s rejoinder, he says that he is just trying to follow the meaning of the passage and not trying to be mean to women. Mike seems to think that I believe the passages are “unclear” and therefore have no meaning. This is not true. I believe the passages are clear after a careful study of the inspired words and the inspired grammar in the complete context. I just believe that the complementarian position has made the passages appear unclear because they have taken the passages out of their context.
3. In my second question to Mike I question him why there is no second witness to a supposedly “law” that forbids women from teaching the Bible to men. I bring up the fact that every other law is established with a second or third witness at the minimum and so I question Mike on God’s way to establish a charge of sin against a person.
Mike answers by denying that a law needs to be established by a second witness. Mike moves away from my question by saying that no Scripture needs to be repeated while I was establishing God’s law of a second or third witness for a judicial matter.
Mike then admits that the Bible never says “godly women who teach right doctrine are not allowed to teach men” although he does believe that there is a “pattern” of male leadership. The fact that Mike admits that there is no universal prohibition against all women’s teaching to men is a very important admission and certainly comes across at this point as a bridge building admission.
4. In my response to Mike, I write that 1 Timothy 2:12 is unworkable as a universal prohibition against women teaching men in the church because of the inspired words and inspired grammar and because there was no such a “law” that stopped any godly woman in her teaching for the entire Old Testament period. I also wrote that there is no regulation on what would be sin i.e. if a man was listening to a woman teach without her seeing him, would that make her in sin? I also challenged Mike to provide even one other universal law that had not been established by a second witness. I corrected Mike’s misunderstanding about my claim to a second witness. I was only claiming that a judicial matter established by a law that would be used to bring the guilt of sin had to have a second witness. I was not claiming that everything in the Scriptures was repeated. I also showed that 1 Timothy 3 could not be used as a prohibition against women anymore than it could be used to prohibit single men or married men without children from desiring the work of an overseer. I also postulated that if women’s gifts are not valuable to men themselves, then these gifts by necessity would be inferior gifts.
In Mike’s rejoinder, he again misunderstands my position and tries to say that I am claiming that 1 Timothy was not necessary for the church as it was only written to one man. Mike apparently has not yet been able to think outside the box to grasp my argument. Perhaps this is why it was difficult for him to try to refute what I was saying. Again Mike misrepresents me by claiming that I am saying that if any Scripture is not repeated, then we should just throw it out. Mike then tries to answer my challenge to find one universal law that isn’t repeated. Unfortunately, Mike failed in his attempt as the “law” he produced about the communion meal was not an unsubstantiated law. Not only is the prohibition repeated in the passage but Pastor Dave writes: “The reason that drinking the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner is a sin (in the context of 1 Cor) is because it was sinning against two universal laws, the law to love each other and the law to love God. It was also breaking other universal laws to do with greed and gluttony.” So the prohibition was in itself a repetition of an earlier universal law. Once again there is a failure to prove that there is another universal law that is not repeated in the Scriptures. I do give Mike credit for trying to answer my challenge.
Mike also tries to prove that 1 Cor. 14:34-35 is not a quote from an earlier Corinthians letter to Paul because there are no quotation marks around the quote. Unfortunately for Mike he appears to be unaware that the New Testament manuscript was written without any marks, so there were no quotation marks around any quote. Mike also tries to disprove my assertion that if women’s gifts are not valuable for men themselves, then their gifts are inferior gifts. Mike merely answers that some women don’t feel that their gifts are inferior.
5. In my third question to Mike, I ask Mike if there is a law that forbids men from listening to women teach the Bible. I also asked Mike if men are not allowed to listen to women teach then how will they be able to do their job of correcting the error?
Mike responds by saying that just as a woman is not to be teaching a man, men are also not to place themselves under a woman’s teaching. Mike believes that men do not need to evaluate a woman’s teaching unless she is preaching a sermon and since women are not allowed to preach, men don’t have to worry about evaluating her teaching. Mike responds that women should be able to do the work of evaluating other women’s teaching.
6. In my response to Mike, I write that listening to a person’s teaching does not place you under their authority. Leading and teaching is a position of servanthood, not a position of taking authority over a person. I respond with the fact that the Word of God is the real authority, not the teacher. I also asked where in the Bible it forbids women from preaching a sermon to women? Mike had said previously that women were not allowed to preach a sermon and so I asked him to prove that. I also asked him how it is that he believes that women are allowed to evaluate other women’s teaching when the evaluation and judging were supposed to be the place of men alone? I also challenge Mike to consider that nowhere in the Scriptures does it say that men listening to women teach the Bible is going against the Scriptures. I said that he is adding something into the Scriptures that is not there.
Mike again appears not to understand my position as he says that I am appealing to an authority system. This is not the case at all with my argument. Mike is adding into what I have said. Mike then explains that he didn’t say that women cannot preach to other women. The problem is that in his previous argument he said that men only needed to evaluate women’s preaching, not their teaching and since women do not preach, then the men are not needed in evaluation. So on the one hand he says that women don’t preach so men don’t need to judge their preaching and then he says that women can preach to women. Isn’t the preaching then something that men need to judge no matter who the women are preaching to? Mike doesn’t seem to have any answer to this problem.
Mike says that the men should be the overseers of women. It is just that women should oversee women’s teaching (and preaching!) Yet Mike says that a man can sit listening to a woman teach if his purpose is only to evaluate her. Is this a sin? Mike says he doesn’t think it is a sin depending on his motive. So now an action is or is not a sin depending on the heart motive of the action. I wonder if this works for all sins?
7. In my fourth question to Mike, I asked him by what authority do men have to stop women from using her gifts for the benefit of the entire church? If God gives her authority to speak out with her gifts by his command in 1 Peter 4:10, 11 then how can men contradict that? I asked Mike for a verse that instructs pastors or elders to stop women from using their gifts?
Mike answered by saying that there was no such verse giving men the instructions to stop women from using their gifts for the common good. This was a good admission by Mike in a bridge building way. Mike says that men are not to stop women from using their gifts, but it is okay for God to stop women. He didn’t give an example of how God stops women whom he has gifted and authorized to speak.
8. In my response to Mike, I said that I was very glad that Mike admitted that men are not to stop women from using their gifts as the Bible instructs us not to judge the servant of another. I suggested that if men had a conscience problem in listening to women teach the Bible, they should just quietly removed themselves without fuss or disruption and let those men whose Bible-trained conscience does not bother them to benefit from her teaching. I said that only the gifts that do not benefit all are restricted. I also said that a woman’s gifts do not become evil when a man walks in the door where she is teaching.
Mike responded by saying that he didn’t think that it was a conscience issue. He didn’t think that men should listen to a woman teach even if they have a strong conscience on this matter. Mike then identified women teaching the Bible to men as a sin issue but not quite on the same gravity as homosexuality but still a serious issue. Mike says that egalitarians (and myself) dismiss Bible passages that teach against women teaching the Bible. Fortunately, Mike is wrong in this area. I for one do not dismiss these important passages. I just interpret them in their complete context instead of taking a verse or two out of the context where God inspired them. Mike then said that women commanded not to teach men is an instruction that needs to be obeyed. He doesn’t say who is responsible for making sure that women obey since he has previously said that men are not instructed to stop women from teaching men.
9. In my fifth question to Mike, I asked him if God contradicts Himself? If God through Paul gave permission for all to prophesy in the congregation, how can God turn around and forbid women to speak and teach in the assembly? I asked Mike whose commands are we supposed to obey? God’s commands that tell us to use our gifts for the common good or man’s command that stops a woman from benefiting men with her gift of teaching?
Mike responds by saying that God cannot contradict Himself. Mike then tries to separate prophesying from preaching and teaching. Mike says that God is okay with women prophesying, but He is not okay with them preaching and teaching.
10. In my response to Mike, I showed from the lexicons that prophesying is preaching and expounding and proclaiming God’s message. I also challenged Mike with the fact that there is no universal prohibition for women to not judge prophecy. I showed from the scripture where women are to judge because in the next life we will judge the world and the angels too. I also showed that in the weighing of the prophetic message that this was done in a question and answer discussion/debate format which was open to all. These are Christian activities that we are all encouraged to participate in for they help us grow and mature. I challenged Mike to give me even one clear verse that prohibited women from judging or from the duty to test all things? I also challenged Mike to show me a clear verse that says that women are to prophesy and interpret tongues only for other women and children? I ended my response with this:
Indeed we are called to build bridges. This is the time to build bridges towards our sisters in Christ who have been called to ministry. Is it not a time to love them and affirm their gifts instead of stifling them and holding them back from serving the body of Christ?
Mike responded by saying that it was not his intention to answer every question due to his time limitation in his job as pastor.
Mike then chose to answer the question on prophesy as a meaning of expounding the word and preaching. He said that there were different kinds of prophesying and some would exclude women. Mike said that if Paul wanted to group together prophesying and teaching then he could have, but Mike says that Paul didn’t do this, so women can’t teach men. Mike says that I am calling “love” what he is calling “disobedience to the Scriptures.” He says that he cannot invite his sisters in Christ to do what he believes the Bible forbids.
My final response is that if God truly does forbid women from teaching the truth of the Bible to men, then these men have failed to show how such a law has been established and upheld. And they are the ones who should be correcting us. I also want to know why God shows a prejudice towards men in that He forbids some of His gifts from being used for their benefit? There are more questions than answers in the complementarian position, and there are major contradictions that complementarians must deal with. It is a serious matter to charge women with sin merely for using their God-given gifts for the benefit of all without a spirit of prejudice.
It was a good debate although Mike completely failed to prove that there was a functioning universal law that gives clear boundaries around women’s gifts. I trust that as these kinds of debates continue, people who read the debates will recognize the weakness of the complementarian argument. Complementarians who cannot answer questions from the complete context of the passages should ask themselves why? If we are not to judge the servant of another especially when God’s women servants are doing godly work, then we should question whether men will be judged by God for doing what He has not authorized them to do. If we come to these hard passages and see in the inspired context something other than a universal law stopping all godly women from benefiting their brothers in Christ with their gifts, then we will stand before God to give Him an account of our obedience to Him. No man is to stand in the way of another servant of God doing godly work lest he finds himself fighting the Holy Spirit and His work.