Alistair Chalmers has started a series of articles from a complementation perspective on allowing women’s voices to be heard in church. He gives the extreme example (extreme in logic sadly not necessarily in terms of commonality) of women attending women’s conferences and being taught by men on what it means to be a godly mother and wife. But it goes wider than that in many of our churches, I suspect that this is partly because we create one space to hear from people and to allow God’s Word to be brought to our lives and that is the sermon.
Like Alistair I am a complementarian and am in fully agreement for example with the FIEC’s statement on men and women in church leadership. I believe that elders are male and that teaching authority within the church lies with the elders. That does affect how we shape church life. However, as I take time to explain in this document, I believe there are decision making and pastoral discernment responsibilities that should involve men and women and that women’s gifts should be used and voices heard.
In one of his articles, Alistair talks about the importance of women being able to receive training. So, I was intrigued to spot this tweet by another fellow complementarian, Liam Golligher.
I think that Liam’s tweet and Alistair’s blog posts are linked. If we are to let women speak, we also need to let them train. Now, I must admit that unlike some respondents to Liam’s comment, I’ve not heard women actively be discouraged from theological training. That could be because my ears are not so attuned to it but it could also be that there are other ways in which the message “this is not for you” is communicated.
First of all, there is a lack of clarity about who and what theological training is for. Is it just for pastors (and let’s face it, in some evangelical circles, theological training is seen with a little suspicion for them) or is it beneficial for other gifts and roles. Personally I want to suggest that theological at its basic level is the study and knowledge of God through his word. So all church members should be theologians but we have time, energy and need to pursue it to different levels.
Secondly, it is possible then that, whilst we would not actively say to women “theological study is not for you”, we create an environment where there isn’t space for women to receive such teaching and training. If our theological colleges and course are not for women, then bluntly, where do they have to turn? The answer is that they have only secular universities to go to -and then they will hear the message:
“Studying theology at university is dangerous. You should not pursue that.”
So, we close off the routes and options. Of course it is not just about women being excluded. Rather our current set ups mean that the possibility of receiving theological training are pretty limited anyway. This is why I’m encouraged by any efforts to open up theological education including the work of Crosslands and Union School of Theology with learning community approaches. It’s also why I’m trying to provide opportunities for people to get some foundational stuff via Faithroots, especially our Wednesday Faithroots Live sessions.
But there is much work still to do if we are going to train workers for the harvest field that will meet the need of that great harvest.