Tuesday, May 19, 2015

an unlikely blessing

I am trying to recall if I have ever heard a woman give a benediction before.

This search through my mental files is complicated by the fact that I have very rarely heard a woman preach.

There was Leslie, draped in black robes, who took the pulpit one Sunday evening in my childhood church. This I did not understand. Her vestments were foreign, to be sure, but stranger still was her gender. How could a woman preach God's Word to a roomful of Christian Reformed men — men who spent a good deal of time arguing over whether a woman could even pass the offering plate? This contradiction tugged my small brain into knots. I probably squirmed in my pew and scanned the sanctuary for furrowed brows. I suppose she even blessed us, but I don't remember. My Opa, who never missed a service, must have been livid. I was simply puzzled.

Then there was a woman in 2005 whose name I can't recall, and whose message I could not understand. She spoke Dutch. Oma and I had traveled together to the land of her birth, the plot of ground where she grew to adulthood, and the church in which her faith was formed. It was startling to see a woman take to the stage in the very church that had produced my conservative grandmother. I sat there, intensely curious, I — a woman — who felt called to teach God's Word. What would Oma say? The service ended. I braced myself as Oma turned to me with the inevitable judgment. "Well," she pronounced with considerable disgust. "You could have done much better." I'm sure my eyebrows rose, unbidden. Was this my grandmother's blessing? I received it as such.

Rebecca, a riveting speaker at Good Shepherd in Charlotte.
Octavia, who captivated us in chapel at Gordon-Conwell.
Maggie, drawing us into the story by performing a monologue as Mary, the mother of Jesus.
Karen, offering a simple, back-to-the-basics homily at the IBR worship service one year.

If I push myself, perhaps I could fill the fingers on both hands. I who am 37 years old and have rarely missed a Sunday. I'll do the math for you. That's 1,924 sermons, not counting evening services or chapel messages in college or Sundays since my last birthday. So perhaps it's not surprising that I cannot conjure up a picture of a woman pronouncing the blessing at the close of the service.

At least 99.5 times out of a hundred, it's been a man.

And so when Pastor Dave invited me to give the benediction after my sermon on Mother's Day, I hesitated. Is that ok here? sermon is already outside the box for most conservative evangelicals. I didn't want to start a riot. He assured me that it would be fine, and so I agreed.

The priestly blessing in Numbers 6 is one of my favorite parts of the entire Bible. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it, studying it, and writing about it. But this is a blessing only the priests are authorized to give. And they are all men. And these are not just nice words, they are efficacious words -- they do something. With these words the priests confer the Name of Yahweh on his people, verbally branding them as His own (see Numbers 6:27). They invite God to act on behalf of his covenant people in accordance with his promise.

I no longer believe that gender is a prerequisite for preaching. For similar reasons, I think "blessing" is not limited to clergy (or to members of just one Israelite tribe, for that matter). We are, after all, a "kingdom priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9) and in Christ there is "neither male nor female" (Galatians 3:28). But frankly, I don't have much practice with benedictions, and hardly any precedent. It might have looked as awkward as it felt when I extended my hands over the congregation that Sunday.

But I meant every word.

May the LORD bless and protect you.
May the LORD smile on you and be gracious to you.
May the LORD show you his favor and grant you his peace.
Numbers 6:24–26


  1. I wish I had been there. I have not yet experienced a woman giving the benediction.

    1. That is sad to hear. Please read 1 Timothy 2:12-14 and 1 Timothy 3

  2. I remember thinking, as you pronounced the benediction: "Perfect. How fitting, how profound, how earnestly yet humbly spoken. She understands what she's saying and doing, and we are blessed because of it! I'm glad I invited her to do this. ...Now I wonder if anyone will complain..."

    I'm pleased to report that I have received no complaints about the Benediction. ...yet :). I pray that we, as a church, became a little more like Jesus in his acceptance of all people and that His church will become richer for embracing the gifts of all His people, male and female. Maybe you helped our church take a small step in that direction.

  3. Dave,
    Thank you! This makes the gift doubly meaningful. It was an honor to minister alongside you. Praying that God will bless you with his favor during the remaining weeks of Pastor Tom's sabbatical.

  4. Amen and Amen, friends! Love the humility with which you accepted this invitation, Carmen. And thank you Pastor Dave for extending it. May it only be the beginning of further richness in the Spirit's joy upon us!

  5. This article is false and not biblically sound.
    Bible believing men should follow God's word and not sit under a woman preaching to them from the pulpit in light of 1 Timothy 2:12-14 nor support a woman who claims to pastor in light of 1 Timothy 3. These women pervert the word of God. Men and women are equal but have different roles - Genesis 2, 1 Timothy 2:12-14

    1 Tim. 2:12-14 is where Paul explicitly states that he does not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man but to remain quiet ("quiet" is hesuchia, not complete silence but respectful quiet)--because Adam was created first. In 1 Tim. 3:15 we are told this is how we are to conduct ourselves in the household of God. When a woman is a pastor and/or elder, she is in a place of authority over men. Paul clearly tells us this authority in the church structure is not the place for a woman because Adam was made first. This is not a cultural issue. Remember, Eve sinned first; but sin entered the world through Adam and not Eve (Rom. 5:12) because Adam was in the position of authority. This is why husbands are the head of the wife even as Christ is head of the church (Eph. 5:23). The place of authority in the church and family is not the place of the woman.

    In Titus 1:5-6 it says that the elder must be “the husband of one wife.” The Greek is literally “man of one woman." This same phrase is used of the Bishop in 1 Tim. 3:2 and the Deacon in 1 Tim. 3:12. Remember, Paul is speaking of church officers - not servants (diakonos) in homes (Rom. 16:1, 27). So, the pastor/elder is to be a man of one woman.

    1 Tim. 5:17 tells us that the elders are to receive honor - especially those who preach and teach. Therefore, the pastor is an elder by definition, and the elder is to be a “man of one woman.” The word “elders” here is masculine in the Greek. So, Paul is telling us how the church is to operate (1 Tim. 3:15), and that the place of ecclesiastical authority is based on male eldership because Adam was created first (1 Tim. 2:12-13). This is doctrine - not culture

    Women pastors is not an essential issue but we should still worry about it. If you do think we should not worry about it then why did God tell us women are not to teach or exercise authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12-13) in the church (1 Tim. 3:15)? Why did he tell us that an elder is to be a “man of one woman,” (Titus 1:5-6) if we are not to worry about it?

    Galatians 3:28 is not about women pastors and elders. It is about salvation - in Christ, not church eldership, so it doesn’t apply.

    Deborah (Judges 4, 5) was an Old Testament Judge - not a New Testament elder. Prophesying women (Acts 21:8, 9) are not elders/pastors. Priscilla (Rom. 16:3, 4), a fellow worker in Christ, is not said to be an elder/pastor. Phoebe (Rom. 16:1) is a servant (diakonos) of the church - not an elder/pastor. Note that Jesus came not to be served but to serve (diakonos) (Mark 10:45). The government is called a minister (diakonos) of God (Rom. 13:4). Junia (Rom. 16:7) may have been a female apostle (not one of the 12) though this is debated. Still, even if she were, apostles are not for today; and an apostle is not a pastor/elder. The Chosen Lady of 2 John 1 is an honored woman - not a pastor/elder. Basically, the standard verses cited by people to support women being pastors and elders do no such thing.

    Three questions to end with-
    1. If Christians refuse to submit to the teaching of God’s word in this matter, can they be trusted to rightly deliver God’s word to us in other matters?

    2. How can an elder/pastor who is a woman be “the husband of one wife," lit. “a man of one woman," (Titus 1:6)?

    3. How can a woman be in a place of authority as a pastor/elder and not violate 1 Tim. 2:12-13 where Paul clearly says he does “not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man?" This is what it says, and there aren't any qualifications to it. What do you do with it?

  6. The church promoted in this article is not biblically sound and I would never encourage anyone to attend it in light of Mark 12:30-31 and 1 Timothy 3. God's word is not supreme at this church

  7. Thanks for reading and responding to my post. Much has been written on this issue, so I won't reproduce the relevant arguments here. The interpretation of these passages is tricky due to a variety of cultural-historical factors as well as the contradictions that arise when they are read in a woodenly literal fashion (e.g., women are to cover their heads when praying or prophesying in public, so clearly they are not expected to be entirely quiet, nor are they to refrain from teaching doctrine). The good news is that there is room in the kingdom of God for both of us, diverse though our perspectives may be. Please know that I have come to my position prayerfully and after much study, and that I am seeking to honor God with my life. Our church is not perfect, but it is full of godly men and women who are sincerely following Jesus and upholding the Word of God.

  8. The interpretation is not tricky at all. The problem is you are refusing to submit to God's design for order in the church. There are also no contradictions that arise if you study scripture the way it is to be studied via God's holy spirit using hermeneutics. Nobody made the argument that women are to remain "entirely quiet" nor refrain from teaching doctrine. The scripture on women covering their head in worship was cultural, the teaching in 1 Tim 2:12-14 was doctrinal because Paul took it back to God's order of creation. God's word is clear is that women are not teach men from the pulpit in 1 Tim 2:12-14 and women are not called to Pastor. Women can teach other women as seen in Titus 2:3-4.

    There is no room in the kingdom of God for heresy. That is not what the Bible teaches. Your perspective is not biblical and thus not of God and you are misleading people with it and God will hold you accountable for it.

    Your church is not sincerely following God in the area of his ordained order for a new testament church as 1 Tim 2:12-14 & 1 Timothy 3:1-15 shows. If you guys compromise in this area, I wonder what other areas you guys are compromising in? Stats show that churches that adopt unbiblical practices like yours eventually support abortion, gay marriage and homosexuality.

    You also side stepped my questions at the end that show your position is false and not biblical. I encourage you to repent and dig deeper into scripture for God's glory. You are in grave sin.