On Ordaining Women, Part II – What is a Masculine Pulpit?

In my previous post about ordaining women to the pastorate, I tried to make the point that if you define the ideal pastor in feminine terms, you’re going to wind up with women wanting to be pastors, and they will actually be better at it than men (what with being women and all). If your job description is laden with descriptions that appeal to women, then you shouldn’t be surprised that women show up to fill out an application. So while it’s all well and good for Bible-believing Christians to simply say, “The Bible says a pastor should be a man, so that’s what we require”, there’s more to the story. If you try to hold the line on reserving the office of pastor for men while at the same time modeling a kind of feminine ministry, there will be consequences. You might wind up with frustrated masculine men because they are A) not every going to be considered for the pastorate, and/or B) never get to experience being led by a masculine pastor. You will wind up with fewer men in church generally because it turns out men will leave church when it starts to resemble a group therapy session. Or you might end up with masculine women because in the spirit of Genesis 3 they sense there is a real opportunity here to gain some authority over men.

But as several have cogently pointed out to me, I did not define or describe what a masculine pulpit looks like in my previous post. Certainly what has passed for masculine behavior in the past included ranting and raving from the pulpit about a variety of soap box issues, some of which involved people made in the image of God and for whom Christ died. I would agree that this not indicative of masculinity from the pulpit, but just because there’s such a thing as false/sinful masculinity, it doesn’t follow that we shouldn’t pursue biblical masculinity. So the premise of this post is simple:

If God intends the pastorate to be occupied by men, it is likely that the pastorate requires masculine virtues.

That seems to me to be a pretty logical conclusion. But before my keystrokes cause the incense of burnt tire in your nostrils as the rubber meets the road, here is a necessary disclaimer. Men and women are more alike than they are different. This is a biblical truth and a truth borne out in the daily lives of 7 billion people. Men and women are made in the image of God and so they have overlapping virtues and vices. It would be difficult to say something of masculinity that doesn’t also apply in some lesser measure to feminity and vice versa (with the exception of a woman’s ability to have children). So as I speak of a masculine pulpit, of course some joker out there is going to say, “But women can be _________, too!” Yes, and indeed. Men and women both share a set of personality potentials because they are both made in the image of God. And yet, for all their similarities, the differences really do matter, as the Word of God testifies.

So what is a masculine pastor? Well we can reject out of hand any caricature or perversion of masculinity that Scripture rejects. To be masculine is not to be “Gaston” from Beauty and the Beast. One route for getting a clue to masculinity is to look to the biological markers that distinguish men from women. For example, after puberty, men average roughly 20X the testosterone level of women. The male body is larger, denser, and has more muscle mass than a woman’s body. It seems men are built for action, for confrontation, for resiliency, and for strength.

My suggestion is that all of this indicates that men are to be ambitious and assertive, not to mention adventurous and audacious. And it’s not only because all those words start with the letter A, as if I was watching too much Sesame Street lately. There are a cluster of “hard” virtues that men are to exhibit, and which our culture has either demonized in the name of “male toxicity” or downplayed to a point that they become irrelevant. In a carnal man, these attributes are self-serving and destructive. But in the hand of the Redeemer, the wild world is tamed and families are protected and civilizations are built by these virtues.

The absence of these hard virtues results in a pastor makes the pulpit far too passive. I think “passive” is a word that fits the modern Western church. Where we should be leading, we have become followers. Where we should be confronting, we are compromising. Where we should be bold, we are obsequious. The New Testament remarks multiple times of the boldness of the apostles to preach the gospel in the face of fierce opposition and persecution. And the gospel they preached wasn’t confined to a worship hour on Sunday: it was the gospel for fathers, the gospel for wives, the gospel for children, the gospel for slaves, the gospel for masters, and the gospel for governors. It was a gospel that had Jesus at its center but proclaimed the Lordship of Christ over every aspect of life. So we can’t excuse ourselves by retreating into a “gospel center” theology where the gospel is the size of a pinball and the rest of life is the size of the galaxy. Perhaps we should listen to some words from our Presbyterian friends:

The Christian is to resist the spirit of the world. But when we say this, we must understand that the world-spirit does not always take the same form. So the Christian must resist the spirit of the world in the form it takes in his own generation. If he does not do this, he is not resisting the spirit of the world at all.

The God Who Is There, Francis Schaeffer

“In these times, let us remember the stages that our evangelical leaders have brought us through:

1. There will not be any need to fight.

2. There may come a time when it necessary to fight.

 3. It is too early to fight.

4. It is too late to fight. This is a post-Christian era.

Doug Wilson, Twitter

The absence of these hard virtues in the pulpit is reflected in many cases by a lack of these hard virtues in the pew. The roux from which the sauce is made is the family, and there is a huge amount of statistical data depicting the sad decline of male participation in the family. Were we able to statistically capture the presence of male headship in the family, do any of really doubt that we would see a corresponding decline, even in families where men are active? We have spent the last several decades telling men that they are to be “servant leaders” without telling them that the way they serve is by leading.

If you promote a masculine pulpit you will have to weed out the power hungry, the perpetually angry, and the brawlers. But you’re always going to have to weed something out. There is a reason that a man is to attain the pastorate, not be given the pastorate. What the church cannot afford is passivity in the pulpit. As a matter of fact, my greatest ministry regrets are not the times I did something clumsily or counseled someone indistinctly, but rather the times I did nothing and said nothing. I regret my passivity far more than I regret anything I actually attempted out of a desire to serve God or love people. (Of course, there are times when my motives were self-serving and carnal, and any fruit sprouting from such seeds is bound to be corrupt).

A few years ago, a church member told me that she was praying that God would give me a “Timothy”. In other words, a young man who would be useful to me in the ministry and that I could train/mentor. My response was that I, also, would like that, but on the condition that he be the kind of young man that I had to rein in, not prod to action. I would rather say, “You shouldn’t have done that” or “a better way to do that would have been …” rather than have to motivate him to do something (I am speaking here not of essentially moral actions, but of ministry activities). I would rather temper a fire that exists than have to walk around with a gasoline can trying to start it.

In the next post – Lord willing – one final thought on the issue of the masculine pastor.

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