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  • Martin
    Someone wrote: Calvin s view of history suggests that only in times of distress might God turn aside from the natural way and call women to preach. He foresaw
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 26, 2003
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      Someone wrote:
      "Calvin's view of history suggests that only in times of distress might God turn aside from the natural way and call women to preach. He foresaw circumstances in which the extraordinary, preaching by women, might occur-as it had in the distant and recent past. Interpreting our circumstances, unforeseen by Calvin, in the light
      of the biblical material has led most Christians to believe that preaching by women is now to be part of the ordinary in the church."
      At the outset, I think it is dubious, if not entirely absurd, that the quote from Calvin (Calvin's Institutes, Book IV, Chapter X, Part XXXI.) can be used to prop up this position. 
      Calvin in various places forbids women from holding ecclesiastical authority.
      Calvin's Institutes, Book IV, Chapter III
      Calvin's Commentaries:
      1 Corinthians 11:1-16
      1 Corinthians 14:34-40
      1 Timothy 2:11-15
      Titus 1:5-6
      In the aforementioned section of Calvin's Institutes, he states:
      "For should a woman require to make such haste in assisting a neighbour that she has not time to cover her head, she sins not in running out with her head uncovered. And there are some occasions on which it is not less seasonable for her to speak than on others to be silent."
      What Calvin is stating here is somewhat analogous to the rescuing of an animal or the plucking of heads of wheat on the Sabbath.  The principles of mercy and necessity will at times render actions lawful which are ordinarily unlawful due to custom or precept. 
      Calvin here enumerates four practices:
      1)  The covering of the head.
      2)  Kneeling.
      3)  Silence upon some occasions.
      4)  Burial of a dead body without certain accomodations.
      All of these things are customary and need not be taken as exclusive to the ecclesiastical context although they may also have relation unto that context. 
      Considered outside of the ecclesiastical context:
      1)  The covering of the head in the marketplace as a sign of submission.
      2)  The kneeling of men to a king as a sign of submission.
      3)  The silence of women in the marketplace as a sign of submission.
      4)  Burying of the dead without grave-clothes etc.
      Hence, it certainly need not follow that the silence he is speaking of concerns that of women abstaining from teaching in the church.  In fact, it would be absurd to do so in this context seeing that the prohibition of women teaching in the church is rooted not in alterable, customary practice but the creation order and divinely established ecclesiastical offices.  Even if we do grant, albeit I am entirely unwilling to do so, that Calvin puts women teaching into the same category of alterable custom as he did with the Sabbath...placing it in the category of alterable order and policy, rather than universal and absolute law, then Calvin was completely wrong to do so as Scripture clearly shows that teaching in the church belongs only to men unalterably. 
      This being said, these customary practices are contingent upon other considerations which may be deemed extraordinary.  A principle of submission is not violated by women neglecting the visible tokens thereof in certain extraordinary contexts.  Calvin here intends that women may even do what he intends here in his _present_ day while _presently_ and unconditionally forbidding them also from preaching.  If it were permissible on this principle for women to take upon themselves ecclesiastical offices, it were also permissible in Calvin's day where the principle was active and yet Calvin grants no such thing.  It is anachronistic to take this principle outside of the historical context and apply it in a manner in which Calvin did not intend.  Surely in our own day a woman or any other individual lacking ecclesiastical authority may if noticing a fire or being assaulted break silence and order in a church or any other context where her silence is ordinarily required for good order.  This is a far cry from granting an authoritative toleration for women to teach in the church and a fallacy of composition when attempting to go from one to the other via analogy.  Instead of granting women permission to exercise new authority where they are not permitted, Calvin has simply shown that a woman may neglect customary prescriptions in the course of performing a duty lawfully required of her , viz. the covering of the head or silence. 
      D - Duty required of a woman, commanded by the law.  ie: obeying the seventh commandment
      C - Customary observance which is contingent upon extraordinary circumstances which may attend the performing of one's lawful duties.  ie: the covering of the head
      E - Extraordinary circumstance.  ie: a child about to be struck by a vehicle
      If the duty (D) is attended by extraordinary circumstance (E) then the customary (C) observance is not required.
      If (D && E) {!C}
      If the duty (D) is not attended by extraordinary circumstance (E) then the customary (C) observance is required.
      If (D && !E) {C}
      To make the aforementioned feministic argument we would have to state:
      D - Duty of women to exercise the authority of ecclesiastical offices.
      C - Custom of men alone holding ecclesiastical offices.
      E - Extraordinary circumstance which overrides C to permit D.
      If (D && E) {!C}
      This seriously begs the questions:
      1)  Where does Scripture or Calvin show forth that women have any duty to hold ecclesiastical offices?
      2)  Where does Scripture or Calvin state that the gender requirement for ecclesiastical offices is customary?
      3)  If we grant 1 and 2 for the sake of argument, we will require provision of Scriptural and reasonable evidence concerning which circumstances constitute extraordinary warrant for an abrogation of the custom so that we might know when we ought to submit and when not to.  From what I can tell, the extraordinary exceptions that Calvin makes are all negative.  They all involve leaving off some single, ordinary duty and do not involve the adoption of some new set of positive duties in the absence, but rather the performance of existing duties minus an aspect thereof.  If I exceed the speed limit in an emergency, violating the ordinary order of a society, does that mean I now have a right to _all_ of the prerogatives of a police officer to break the speed limit and _also_ enforce the whole body of law under which that one law falls?  If not, how is it that violating the ordinary order of the church by speaking confers the right to all of the prerogatives of a teaching elder?
      I've found that formally defining authority can be a bit of a daunting task.  Suggestions as to how the following is flawed or may be made more accurate/perspicuous are welcome.
      UPA - Universal Principle of Authority (Metaclass)
      Presupposition:  All authority is derived from and rooted in the omniscient and omnipotent triune God.  That which violates God's truth or order may be considered false and tyrannical. 
      DTAx - Distinct Types of Authority (Metaclass/Class)
      These are unique types or subclasses of authority which have their own properties and inherit the general properties of their parent classes (ie: they inherit the property of being of divine right from the parent UPA class).  Each of these types may be further broken down into subtypes, the apportioning being determined by differentiation of properties (ie: ecclesiastical authority, familial authority, civil authority, etc.).  The final DTA is that from which actual instances are derived (see next point).  Classes of authority also may have discrete functions (ie: a teaching elder has the function of expounding the Scripture).  The functions which define the role or operations of the class are rooted in the attributes which identify the class.
      ITAx - Instance(s) of DTA
      These are objects which instantiate a type of authority.  For example, Jake and John may be instances of fatherly authorities, having found in them the properties which essentially define that authority. 
      LN - Light of Nature
      This refers to the reason and knowledge which men are naturally embued with by virtue of having been created in the image of God.  Although men are fallen and the light to a great extent extinguished, they remain without excuse.  Societies and individuals which do not have the Scripture or who do not acknowledge the authority of Scripture still exercise authority over one another. 
      LS - Light of Scripture
      This refers to the truth set forth in Scripture revealing the order of God for families, churches and nations.
      p(LS&&||LN(x1), CLS&&||LN(x2), ..., CLS&&||LN(xn)) - Abbrev. p
      These are the essential properties which uniquely define a class.  Note, the properties and conditions must have warrant from the light of nature (LN) (exercised aright) or/and Scripture (LS) to qualify.  Hence, we exclude both absurd and false conditions.  The integrity of the object depends upon the validity of its properties.
      ip - inherited p
      Single thread formulation:
      UPA(UPAp).DTA1(UPAip, p)...DTAn(UPAip, DTA1ip...DTAn-1ip, p).ITA1...ITAn
      Authority(divine right...).Ecclesiastical Authority(divine right...male, unscandalous, credible profession...).Teaching Elder(divine right...male, unscandalous, credible profession...exegetical skills).Joe...Jake...John
      Those who wish to permit women in ecclesiastical offices must demonstrate a viable change in properties concerning the class of "Ecclesiastical Authority". 
      We also must avoid that pernicious trap of falling into a pragmatic justification of means by ends.  One might on pragmatic grounds argue that in order to reach drunkards and fornicators it is expedient to become a drunkard and fornicator.  Unless it be proven that a woman may lawfully hold ecclesiastical offices, it must be held unlawful for her to do so, even if it is pleaded that some good might come of it. 
      Rom. 3:8 And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported, and as some affirm that we say,) Let us do evil, that good may come? whose damnation is just.
      Some seem to say that a "time of distress" warrants women to take upon themselves ecclesiastical offices.  This is entirely ambiguous to start with and also seems to ignore the testimony of history.
      What qualifies this present age as a "time of distress"?  Was not Calvin's time, a time of distress?  Has not the church in all ages suffered distress?  What can be offered to prove that the last few _decades_ have been radically different than the past few _millennia_ so as to warrant this revision?  You see, if no historically known situations have warranted a radical change in the gender requirements for ecclesiastical office holders, the one who asserts the necessity of the change must either:
      1) Demonstrate that there are one or more historical contexts which correspond with the present context and that they failed to appropriately respond by putting women into the offices.
      2) Show that in the present context there exist factors, considered atomistically or holistically, which uniquely warrant the suggested change.
      If we want to be somewhat pragmatic ourselves, how has the doctrine/worship/discipline/government of those women who have usurped the offices been of any benefit to the church?  If anything, they have been a gross exacerbation of the present distress. Where women have usurped these positions, the grossest of blasphemies, heresies and idolatries have inevitably followed.  This is a classic example of the cure being as bad or worse than the disease.  I think we can easily infer from examining the fruit that God has cursed this pragmatic approach. 
      Jer. 23:21 I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran: I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied.
      Jer. 27:15 For I have not sent them, saith the LORD, yet they prophesy a lie in my name; that I might drive you out, and that ye might perish, ye, and the prophets that prophesy unto you.
      ----- Original Message -----
      Sent: Saturday, January 25, 2003 8:20 AM
      Subject: Re: [Covenanted Reformation] A new article has been added to ReformationOnline.com

      "You will ask, What liberty of conscience will there be in such cautious observances? Nay, this liberty will admirably appear when we shall hold that these are not fixed and perpetual obligations to which we are astricted, but external rudiments for human infirmity which, though we do not all need, we, however all use, because we are bound to cherish mutual charity towards each other. This we may recognise in the examples given above. What? Is religion placed in a woman's bonnet, so that it is unlawful for her to go out with her head uncovered? Is her silence fixed by a decree which cannot be violated without the greatest wickedness?
                                                                                                     270 - Women, Freedom', and Calvin

                                                  Women, Freedom, and Calvin
                                                         By Jane Dempsey Douglass
                                                 Philadelphia, Westminster, 1985. 155 pp. $11.95.
      In 1931, Georgia Harkness wrote, "It is by no accident that the Presbyterian church has refused to ordain women…. Calvin would have none of it." Many with a
      general knowledge of the reformer may remain convinced that Calvin's views about the subordination of women are unyielding and categorical.
      But Jane Dempsey
      Douglass, Hazel Thompson McCord Professor of Historical Theology at Princeton Seminary, argues that Calvin's approach to the biblical material on women's role
      in the church "can be used in support of women's ordination." She does not contend that Calvin was a latent feminist;
                                                                                                     272 - Women, Freedom', and Calvin

      Calvin was "open to future change on theological grounds, but [was] far too deeply shaped by the prejudices of a patriarchal society to imagine giving up those
      patriarchal structures in the foreseeable future."
      Douglass puzzles over how Calvin could include women's silence in church among "indifferent" matters (Institutes, IV.x.31), while elsewhere (in, for example, a sermon on Job 3:3) he observes that although woman is made in God's image, she is inferior to man: "These degrees are instituted in the order of nature." Douglass'
      solution is to argue that for Calvin the "order of nature is not to be set off alone, but rather interrelated with the order of the church in which the Kingdom is
      foreshadowed." In other words,
      "Conformity to the order of nature … is not an absolute command; it must always take into account God's purpose for that order."
      In the Kingdom of God, in the Body of Christ, the distinctions between male and female are transcended. Therefore, as the Kingdom comes in its fullness, the natural
      order will give way to the values of the Kingdom. For Calvin "greater freedom for women in the church is a movement in the direction of the equality of the Kingdom
      that will come someday-but not yet!"
         1.There are several reasons why Douglass' book will become the basic study on Calvin's views on woman's role in the church. First, she goes beyond earlier
           works by placing Calvin's comments in the "broader context" of his "dynamic sense of order." Second, she insists upon following Calvin's own advice that his
           commentaries and sermons be read in light of the Institutes. This is a significant point (which some will want to debate), for Douglass contends that in the
           Institutes "Calvin's selection of what is important … in order to understand the Scriptures properly … virtually excludes positive teaching of the subordination
           of women." Third, in thoroughly examining Calvin's writings, Douglass places Calvin's thought in the context of earlier thinkers, such as Augustine and Aquinas,
           as well as the changes effected by the Renaissance. She recognizes that more work remains to be done on the later medieval Franciscans. Readers will
           especially appreciate her examination of the writings of Marie Dentiere, published in 1536 and 1539, which describe the role of women in the Genevan reform
           and argue that women should declare the truths God has made known to them. Finally, Douglass' analysis is informed by the recent historical examinations of
           N. Davis, C. Blaisdell, R. Kingdon, and others.
      The author summarizes her findings: "Calvin's persistent teaching that the silence of women in church is a matter of time-bound apostolic advice rather than divine law
      for all time is an example of his openness to major change in the future." Such allusions to Calvin's openness suggest that Calvin foresaw a gradual transformation in
      the natural and ecclesiastical orders effected by the values of the Kingdom. The "natural" subordination of women will be tempered and then replaced by "oneness in
      Christ." However, one could argue that this description conflicts with Calvin's view of history, which expects persecutions, apostasy, and upheavals as prophesied in
      Matthew 24 and II Thessalonians 2, according to Calvin. It is precisely in those periods of unrest that God may subvert the "natural order" and raise up women to preach. Otherwise, "the order of creation by which … woman [is] subservient to man … remains the pattern according to which governing in external things (police) is organized," as Douglass' summary of Calvin's sermons on I Corinthians 11 states.
      Calvin's view of history suggests that only in times of distress might God turn aside from the natural way and call women to preach. He foresaw circumstances in which the extraordinary, preaching by women, might occur-as it had in the distant and recent past. Interpreting our circumstances, unforeseen by Calvin, in the light
      of the biblical material has led most Christians to believe that preaching by women is now to be part of the ordinary in the church.
                                                                                                                     David Foxgrover

      Rockford College
      Rockford, Illinois
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