Why Women Matter: The Church as the Face of God

Megan Wildhood

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Ordination of Kim Priddy, First Baptist Church, Greensboro, North Carolina. Credit: Baptist Women in Ministry FB Page

Though there are probably as many conceptions of “primary issues” for the Church as there are churches, a typical list is easily constructed.

We often think of things like missions, poverty alleviation and discipleship as forefront for the Church. Women in church leadership doesn’t seem like a dire need or a “salvation” issue and so it is often pushed to the side or is presented as “optional” depending on one’s interpretation of Scripture.  Caring for the widow and the orphan and carrying the Good News to the ends of the earth are mandated and thus, such things should be our focus, we might think.

But evangelism, social justice, and spiritual formation are all blooms from the same seed: the heart-desire of God for reconciliation all of creation.

  • We spread the Gospel because God’s love-longing is for all of us.
  • We strive for justice because it is only when people are at peace in all levels of life that they can find, practice and sustain reconciliation.
  • We pursue spiritual growth out of desire for closeness with God, which comes as the gift of faith from God.

If the heart of God is yearning for reconciliation, then this should be a central focus of the Church.

One necessary ingredient in reconciliation is the abolition of hierarchy, including gender hierarchy. Reconciliation cannot exist in the presence of ranking, no matter what the basis. Ranking always breeds division, but God yearns to bring all things together by making peace through the blood of Christ (Colossians 1:20).  God is supreme, the Lord of all; all else “below” is on level ground in terms of need for the cross.

For better or for worse, the face of an organization is its leadership.

If the message of God is the reconciliation of all creation, then the composition of the leadership of the Church is in itself a message about this reconciliation.  As the people of God, it is of primary importance that we bear the burden for reconciliation of all things in heaven and on earth – plant and animal, sand and sea, female and male.

The composition of the Church’s leadership matters because it is the face of the work of God in the world, a world still yearning for the unity of reconciliation under God. The Church is God’s salt and light in the world and as such, its leadership is of primary importance.

Baptism at New Life Covenant Church, Atlanta GA

Women in church leadership is not a secondary issue because women are not secondary citizens in the reconciliation world, what Scripture calls the kingdom of heaven.

In Philippians 3:20 Paul refers to his brothers and sisters who are pressing hard after the goal, which is Jesus Christ, as “citizens of heaven”, and makes no gender qualifications in the context of the verse. His aim is to spur followers of Christ to keep their eyes only on Him; the division is between those living as enemies of the cross and those who have attained God’s revelation (Phil. 3:15-18).

Those at the front of the Church should represent the face of God as the Church does its work in the world, which Paul urges us to do as mature people of the same mind.  The Body of Christ will not do its best work in the world if its leadership is missing parts or there are rifts between them; it will not be able to obtain and maintain all of its parts if it does not mirror the nature and character of God.

Ultimately, women in church leadership is not a secondary issue because the image of God is not a secondary issue.

God is Love, which means God is Perfect Relationship, which means God is Equality.  Attempts to emphasize one Person of the Holy Trinity over the other during the Christological Controversies of the 4th Century were declared heresies; the interworkings and weavings of the Trinity a mystery.

Whatever else it means for “male and female to be made in the image of God” (Genesis 1:27), it means that women and men are equal in their capacity to receive grace and thus, in their ability to bear the image of God.

If God is Perfect Community, the face of God is best reflected by men and women together.

 

Today’s guest blogger was a finalist in our recent Junia Project Blog Contest. Click here for the list of published entries.

Megan Wildhood

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Elizabeth Graham

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8 Comments

  • Good thoughts, but I have not heard people describe primary and secondary issues in that way. Generally, when I hear primary issues it is usually in regards to 1 Cor 15 issues (of “first importance”) or creedal related positions. All people are included in those primary issues.

    Also, I think you seem to equate “secondary” with “not important”. A secondary issue can be VERY important. The importance and view of a secondary issue should flow from how one sees the primary issues, as you touched on in your discussion of the persons of the Trinity.

    Again, good thoughts, I am just not sure you are defining terms in the way they are normally used.

    • Good point – thanks for your feedback! I probably should have made it clearer that I was speaking from my own experience and that when I say “primary,” I mean things that are (in my experience) more often talked about or more often talked about first or more often talked about nonnegotiables for the church. But it’s very true that secondary issues are important; they’re just more heavily informed by primary issues. 🙂

  • Thanks so much for this article! I’ve always struggled to articulate exactly why it’s such an important issue so it’s great to read something so well put on this 🙂

  • Thank you for this article, a very interesting and healing reading!

  • “One necessary ingredient in reconciliation is the abolition of hierarchy, including gender hierarchy.”

    Well put, Megan. We have one Person above us in the spiritual hierarchy, and the rest of us – women and men – are members of his family.

  • Good article, and I agree wholeheartedly that we need women in roles of official (“ordained”) church leadership. In this regard, Mary of Nazareth is a prime example. She was called to a unique ministerial vocation, which she freely accepted, and as a result Jesus was “born of a woman” who, not insignificantly, stood at the foot of the cross. She is more important than all the elders, pastors, priests, and bishops. But exalting Mary and keeping other women in marginal roles is no longer legitimate. As patriarchy ceases to be the prevailing culture, we need women to help us see the maternal face of God.

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