The landmark work Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood has a gem of a chapter tracing the history of women in various ministries throughout church history. For a short essay, it covers a lot of ground. The author is William Weinrich, and the title is “Women in the History of the Church: Learned and Holy, but Not Pastors.” Weinrich’s thesis is simply that women have exercised significant and important ministries throughout the church’s history. Nevertheless, those ministries did not include the office of pastor. Weinrich summarizes:
Women have done almost everything men have, and have done it just as well. The significant exception to that generalization is that, until the very recent past, the “office” of teaching and of the sacramental ministry, with the jurisdictional powers this implies, has been reserved for men. Of course, there have been historical anomalies, and there have been sects and peripheral groups that accepted women preachers who may also have offered the eucharist. Yet, in its broad central tradition and practice, the church—East and West and in a multiplicity of cultural and social settings—has consistently maintained that to men alone is it given to be pastors and sacramental ministers (p. 343).
This is not an exegetical or theological argument. It is a brief history and is well worth the read. There is no question what the church’s longstanding practice has been. That so many churches in the secularizing West seem to be abandoning that tradition is not merely a departure from convention but a departure from how the democracy of the dead have understood scripture. An all-male pastorate is not an innovation of Boomer evangelicals in the twentieth century. It is the practice of faithful churches everywhere for the past 2,000 years. As Weinrich concludes:
The evidence shows that the Pauline statements against women speaking in the church were consistently upheld. Contrary practices were regarded as innovative and opposed to the truth and were, by ecclesiastical discipline and censure, excluded from the church. The practice of the early and medieval church was followed without question by the churches of the Reformation, both Reformed and Lutheran, and by virtually all other communions until the most recent past (p. 350).
At the end of the day, history is not our authority. Scripture is. Nevertheless, the history of the church bears witness to faithful understandings of scripture. Christians today ignore that witness at the risk of being drawn away into doctrinal innovation and error. And that is a path that we all must avoid. Rather we should heed the words of the prophet Jeremiah, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you shall find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).
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