Thursday, May 23, 2019

Is preaching an exercise of authority?

i) One complementarian or patriarchal argument I sometimes run across is that women shouldn't preach in church because preaching is an exercise of authority, in which case female preachers are exercising authority over men. But that's a very strained argument. In what respect am I putting myself under the authority of the preacher by my physical presence and merely hearing the sermon? I've heard thousands of sermons. When I sit in church and hear the sermon, sometimes I agree, sometimes disagree, sometimes agree in part and disagree in part. In what respect did I put myself under the authority of the preacher? How is he exercising authority over me? 

ii) One problem is the definition of authority. It reapplies to prooftexts (e.g. 1 Tim 2:12) a diluted concept of authority which is not, insofar as I can tell, how the concept was understood in the ancient world–where the concept of authority was more coercive. Take the authority of kings, slave masters, commanding officers. Or the authority of a Roman father over his family. The power to impose your will on someone else. 

ii) Suppose we define authority as obligating belief and/or action. But surely the mere act of preaching doesn't obligate belief and/or action. The preaching of John Spong, Benny Hinn, Jeremiah Wright, or Pope Francis isn't authoritative. 

iii) We could say a sermon is authoritative insofar as it is true. But that wouldn't single out male preachers.

iv) Here's a more principled argument:

There are natural stereotypical physical and psychological differences between men and women. These are normative differences because they exist by divine design. As Jordan Peterson puts it, "Men are less agreeable (more competitive, harsher, tough-minded, skeptical, unsympathetic, critically-minded, independent, stubborn)"

As a result, women are less naturally suited to be doctrinal guardians. They are generally less interested in doctrinal disputes. Less likely to get into theological fights. Less likely to enforce standards of orthodoxy and orthopraxy. 

That's why God reserved eldership for men. It's hard enough to find faithful men who hold the line, and much harder to find women who do that. Women make an indispensable contribution to the life of the church, but when feminine values dominate the direction of the church, there's a loss of fidelity to orthodoxy and orthopraxy. There are exceptions, but a general policy shouldn't be based on exceptional situations or individuals–although it can make allowance for exceptional situations and individuals. The argument could be fleshed out, but it lays a deeper foundation than ad hoc arguments about preaching as a male domain because preaching is allegedly an exercise of authority.


  1. Steve, I agree. I think you lay out an excellent case.
    Just for fun, can your argument be sustained if Jordan Peterson never existed?
    In other words, the argument is based on a prior belief that only men possess attributes that sustain orthodoxy and orthopraxy. Is that something that can "fly" in all debates? After all, Scripture doesn't discuss your point explicitly.

    So how do you support the argument when a woman preacher denies your argument?

    1. Do you mean when a woman denies instrinsic physical and psychological differences between men and women?

    2. i) My argument doesn't hinge on Jordan Peterson. He's just a convenient spokesman. But normal physical and psychological differences between men and women are well-established, even if progressives pretend otherwise.

      ii) There's the biblical position on male and female social roles, and then there's the question of what, if anything, underlies that position. Is it just an arbitrary stipulation? I don't think so. Rather, it's based on natural differences.

      Commitment to sola Scriptura doesn't mean all knowledge is confined to Scripture. We're allowed to use other sources of knowledge to back up Scripture.

      iii) My position doesn't ride on whether a female preacher is persuaded. Convincing the other side isn't a criterion of truth.

      iv) I don't object in principle to female preachers. I wouldn't mind hearing sermons by someone like Karen Jobes.

      There is, in principle, a distinction between a preacher and a pastor. There are "pulpit supply preachers" who aren't pastors. Some individuals are gifted teachers and speakers, but poor at other aspects of pastoral ministry.

      Church elders have a policy role, inculcating or enforcing an ethical and theological policy for the church they oversee. That's one of the areas in which male headship is more strategic.

      v) It's also the case that female pastors usually attend progressive seminaries, and are mostly are ordained in progressive denominations. A partial exception might be the Assemblies of God, although I'm not qualified to comment on that denomination.

  2. > "preaching is an exercise of authority"

    This needs nuancing. Preaching is a representative function. In a world in which physical actions are meaningful (i.e. not to be relegated to having no real importance in contrast with "the real spiritual meaning"), representative action is meaningful. God the Father speaks to the world with authority through his word, and thus he restricts the public declaration of that word to those whom he has constructed to meaningfully represent him and his authority and Fatherly government in the various spheres of life, i.e. men.

    I think the dichotomy Steve makes between the argument he critiques and the one he prefers is over-done. It makes it sound too much like it's based on pragmatics. The fact that men are better *equipped by constitution* to act in a representative function is not random or unrelated to the fact that they are also the ones *appointed with authority* to do that. Neither God nor his creative works are arbitrary. Rather, God has suitably equipped them to do what he has divinely authorised and commanded.

    1. To add to this, I think it's important to make this link, because without it, the "Ah, but *this particular woman* appears equipped" loophole is too easy to exploit. The symbolic, representational aspect is what "seals the deal". God has not called women to represent the authority of Fatherhood within his creation.

    2. "The fact that men are better *equipped by constitution* to act in a representative function is not random or unrelated to the fact that they are also the ones *appointed with authority* to do that"

      I don't see how that's inconsistent with my argument. To the contrary, male eldership is undergirded by "better *equipped by constitution*" to perform that role.

    3. I don't think it's inconsistent as such; but it seems to be that you're introducing an unnecessary/unhelpful dichotomy. e.g. When you say above "it's based on natural differences", I think this stops too soon. The natural differences are not the beginning point. The beginning point is the Fatherhood of God and his desire to demonstrate his glorious being and help us to understand his glorious being, and to declare it to the world, partly through things in the Creation. So, the ultimate argument for pastors to be male isn't the general male constitution - that's downstream of the ultimate argument, which is God's desire to demonstrate something of his nature and have that nature honoured and represented in the Creation.

    4. I don't even know what that means. What's the connection? Is your claim that preaching exemplifies the Fatherhood of God, and is therefore reserved for men since only men can represent the Fatherhood of God?

  3. So this would seem to allow for female deacons, I suppose. The way I understand it, a deacon is just an administrative helper-outer and would not really be a position of authority.

    On the other hand, I've seen that some denominations allow their deacons to marry Christian couples. Is that an exercise of authority, or is the "marry-er" simply a witness?

    1. I don't have any problem with deaconesses, although some denominations might consider that a slippery slope. In addition, one can have a set up where deacons minister to men while deaconesses minister to women.