A short article published in the magazine of St. Columba's Church of Scotland (London, UK) relating to the ordination of women. The Church of Scotland has been ordaining women for decades, as have many other like-minded Protestant bodies. However, it can be easy to forget that a number of Christian denomination bodies do not ordain women (not just Roman Catholics, but also a large number of Protestant bodies). In short form, why do we accept the ordination of women? Why do others reject it? This piece attempts to illustrate that we are all seeking to bear faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even if we disagree on points such as this. Click read more.
In 1969 The Church of Scotland’s Presbytery of Aberdeen ordained Rev. Catherine McConnachie as a Minister of the Word and Sacrament. It was the first ordination of a female by the Church of Scotland, and one of the first amongst the European national churches.
Since then, of course, The Church of Scotland (and many other denominational bodies, including the Presbyterian Church USA of which I am a part) have been blessed by a great many female pastors. Indeed, the life of St. Columba’s is deeply enriched by the ministry of our own Rev. Andrea Price – a clergywoman who inspired me greatly during my time with St. Columba’s.
Coming from a tradition where the ordination of women is normal, accepted, and loved we can often forget that female ordination remains a divisive topic across Christendom.
We are all well aware that Roman Catholics do not ordain women to the priesthood. But it is also worth remembering that a great many Protestant traditions (in Europe and around the world) also refuse to ordain women.
It can be tempting to make the assumption that such policies are simply based on sexist thought, archaic traditions, or a fear of change. However, such assumptions gloss over the theological basis of the position of these churches and, often, simply lead to more division and divisiveness across the Church.
My hope in writing this article is to explain a little bit –theologically – about why our particular faith tradition supports the ordination of women as well as why so many of our Christian brothers and sisters reject it. My hope is that all will be enriched with a more robust and respectful understanding.
I will begin with our faith tradition. For us, the principle role of the minister is to proclaim and teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to live into the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). We believe that Christ’s commission was given to the church – both men and women. Through this, we affirm the priesthood of all believers; a doctrine which affirms that all of us are able to prayerfully commune with God in prayer; offering thanksgiving, repentance, and seeking after God’s presence.
To this end, we recognize that throughout Scripture God works through women as well as men to further His Kingdom, and that God continues to work through women as well as men today. Indeed, one does not chose on their own to become a pastor. Rather, they respond to God’s calling in their life. Female pastors, as with their male counterparts, are faithfully responding to the work of the Holy Spirit in their life. And if God is calling a woman to serve in ordained ministry, who are we to doubt this? Ultimately, we as the church are there to serve God, not the other way around.
But what about those who reject the ordination of women? Generally, these individuals and denominations possess a more liturgical, sacramental approach to worship and/or a more rigid reading of Scripture.
Consider the worship services of The Church of Scotland compared to that of the Roman Catholic Church. In our tradition, what is central is the sermon. This emphasizes the centrality of proclaiming God’s word. For Roman Catholics the central element of worship is the celebration of the Eucharist. Indeed, the primary function of the priest is to celebrate the church’s seven sacraments.
For liturgical Christians, the sacraments are not simply supplemental to the life of the church; they are foundational to its existence and are essential components of the life of faith. It is in the sacraments that Jesus Christ is most acutely encountered. And so it is customary for many liturgical Christians to seek to emulate the Biblical narratives as closely as possible. Those narratives, almost exclusively, relate to actions by men.
In addition, as many seek to be faithful to God’s word in Scripture, they come to see that Christ chose as his disciples men; this in spite of the fact that we know he had female followers. Furthermore, the Biblical narrative, particularly within the Old Testament, does demonstrate God choosing priests – and those priests being men. There are also a number of texts within the Pauline canon describing the role of women and men within the church.
My point in writing is to dispel the idea that our brothers and sisters who reject female ordination are doing so based off prejudice or bias. While we disagree with their interpretations of Scripture, it is important to remember that they are seeking to bear faithful witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, just as we are.
Disagreement can be a powerful tool for collective growth. On this subject, our faith tradition differs with the traditions of a number of our neighbors across the global church. Nonetheless, such disagreements ought not be cause for division and skepticism. Rather, they should be seen as healthy byproducts of Christians seeking to faithfully understand and conform to Christ’s teachings.
I am proud to serve alongside, and to learn from, so many gifted pastors: male and female. For me, what is most important is the authenticity of God’s calling in the life of those who aspire to serve in the pastorate, not what their sex is. However, I think that the Christian faith is enriched by the sharing of different opinions and faithful perspectives. Together, we can all grow and learn in our faith.