The Man-Woman Debate: Theological Comment -- By: Robert Letham

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 52:1 (Spring 1990)
Article: The Man-Woman Debate: Theological Comment
Author: Robert Letham

The Man-Woman Debate: Theological Comment

Robert Letham

A major area of debate in recent years has been that of the place of women in church and society. In particular, the question of whether women should be ordained to positions of ruling authority in the church has been discussed at length. In both Britain and America many denominations now have women ministers. The Church of Scotland has been in this situation for some years. The Church of England has been discussing the issue and has been moving towards the position. In the United States, the PCUSA has adopted full equality while the matter has also come to the surface in the Christian Reformed Church. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church appointed a committee to study the hermeneutics underlying the debate. It is incontestable that the original impetus for these moves came from the vehement lobbying of the feminist movement and its widespread impact in Western society. Beyond this immediate question a wide range of issues have emerged concurrently with which we must all be familiar.

This article attempts to uncover theological grounding for a fresh discussion of the problem. It is written with the uneasy impression that this particular perspective has been heard too infrequently for comfort. Where areas of wide disagreement exist often the most basic questions are obscured either by the use of emotive terminology or by discussion becoming sidetracked through the cut and thrust of debate so as to travel down bypaths rather than the main route. What follows is therefore largely an exploration of the theological ground of the relation of man to woman. It is a theological argument. The mass of secondary literature will be considered only insofar as it impinges on the argument. First of all, I shall outline the argument. Then will follow exposition and development.

The argument runs as follows:

1. The equality of the persons of the Trinity exists in the form of an order which includes a relation of authority and obedience.

2. Man in his imaging of God in righteousness, knowledge, and true holiness is also a relational being, the equality of male and female existing in the form of an order including a relation of authority.

3. Man in the church is being renewed in the image of God, not so as to supersede the above relation of authority as if such a relation were to belong to his prior condition of sin, but, instead, increasingly and progressively to embody such a relation in the context of holiness, righteousness, truth, and love.

4. The feminist movement within the church is incompatible with the historic Christian doctrines of God and man.

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