This question has been hotly debated throughout history. From the early days of the church when some women in the Church at Corinth were criticized by Paul for disrupting worship to the 21st century when many women now function as deacons, priests, and bishops. There is now widespread acceptance of women as clergy at every level in many denominations, but the debate still rages on and, no doubt, will continue until the second coming, when Christ will return and settle the issue.
The Priesthood is a mantle, worn by those whom God has called to serve him through his church. Even though the word “Priest” is a title, which confers on a person a position of authority, Priesthood is NOT a title conveyed by humans and it is NOT a position of authority granted by human hands. The Priesthood is God’s gift to those who answer the call to minister to God’s people through the sacraments of the church. As such, it is given by God through the Holy Spirit. In the history of the Church, there has never been a moment when God said, “Only men can be touched by my Spirit to do my bidding.” Actually, there has never been a moment when God said, “Here’s how you make a priest….” What there has been is God’s calling on the hearts of people in every walk of life to be God’s priest by serving and by offering Christ’s sacrifice, healing, blessing, and anointing.
In our human wisdom, the church has developed a process of examination and discernment to ensure that the church is only served by qualified people. As cumbersome and painful as this process can be, it seems to be necessary as the ministry to God’s people has become more and more demanding and, every day, the knowledge needed to instruct God’s people increases. So, the church has imposed its human methods of setting apart those it deems worthy of the position and title. Unfortunately, human examination and discernment often weed out those who have been genuinely called by God as the standards imposed by this process are many times not guided by God’s desires but by the needs and beliefs of the humans behind the process. Historically, the conclusion of the human process has been:
• Well-educated in God’s word and Church history
• Approved by human standards of decency and morality
There are countless reasons for those conclusions, especially the first one and it is not the intent of this article to rehearse them all. The point here is that this mantle of Priesthood has been given to men and women of God’s church since the earliest days of God’s creation. There were men and women anointed as judges in the government and Jesus accepted women in any roles that were allowed by the society in which they lived as well as those that were not. He gave his blessing on women to serve him as they followed him in his earthly ministry and even gave them the greatest ministry he could at the time – that of evangelist. He sent women to tell the Apostles the good news of his resurrection from the dead. Jesus placed no restrictions on who could be a follower and a disciple.
The church of today has many restrictions on women in the church. These are human restrictions, regardless of how the church manipulates Scripture to put discriminatory words in the mouths of Jesus and Paul and others who wrote of the ministry of the church. The restrictions which persist into the modern church were set and condoned and continued by the humans who took upon themselves the ministry of administering the church’s policies throughout history. A trip through Church history makes one thing clear – the policies and practices of the Church have changed, are changing, and will always continue to change as long as humans are involved. The only thing that has not changed is that Jesus is the head of the Church, the author of our salvation, and the ultimate authority of our faith. The mantle of Priesthood comes under the authority of Jesus and, while he left his Church in the hands of his Apostles, his intention was that it grow and develop under his authority and according to his standards.
This is why we don’t throw people out of the church when they sin; we teach forgiveness and we practice it. This is why we don’t make people take a test to receive God’s love; we teach unconditional love and we practice it. Jesus practiced inclusiveness in his community of disciples; women were included and welcome and given the most vital assignments. They were included and empowered by Jesus to the very limits of what the society allowed and even beyond. To Jesus, there was “no male and female,” only followers.
The Priesthood of the Church is modeled after the Priesthood of Jesus, not after his gender. The Priesthood is all about Christ, not about a male person. It is about the sacrifice of his human body, not his male body. It is about his offering of himself, his spirit as well as his body, on Calvary and none of this has anything to do with the fact that he was a male. Gender had nothing to do with the Priesthood of Christ; therefore, it seems obvious that Jesus would not exclude anyone from the Priesthood of the Church based on gender. Our human process should be concerned with morality and goodness and faithfulness and knowledge of God’s Word and all of the other qualities of Christ that people need in a Priest of the Church. Certainly there are some women who should not be ordained because they don’t possess these qualities just as there are men who should not be ordained for the same reasons. There is no evidence that Jesus ever intended that gender be one of the reasons that the mantle of Priesthood be denied.