Plenty of Room for Priscilla

Let me tell you about our Priscilla's approach to life and service in our church to all.

I encourage qualified and faithful men who lead in the Church to teach the Word clearly and unapologetically. I encourage all you faithful Priscillas to recognize the unparalleled worth of offering yourselves freely to the glory of God in those things for which he has blessed and equipped you. You do not have to teach men in the church to be a faithful servant of Christ. For these Priscillas we have plenty of room in our churches.

 

In a recent post on the White Horse Inn blog entitled Is There a Place for Priscilla in our Churches?, Rachel Green Miller begins and ends with the following questions: “Should women teach theology to men?” and “Where is the place for Priscilla in our churches?” Since I have been doing a lot of reading and thinking about these things, the topic came up in discussion the other day at lunch with my family. After I mentioned the blog post to my wife and some of my thoughts about it, my seven-year-old son quipped, “We have a Priscilla in our church.” He is right, you know. We do. That Priscilla is a sweet eight-year-old girl I have enjoyed watching grow up over the course of my ministry here.

But concern about vacancy for that kind of Priscilla is not Mrs. Miller’s concern. She wants to be sure that if a church has a Priscilla in spirit, the kind that is both able and willing to engage with someone like an Apollos or a Paul, that she has room, encouragement, and opportunity to do so. Interestingly, I actually have one of those Priscillas too, but she goes by a different name. I would like to talk about our church’s Priscilla and then ask a couple of questions regarding the accuracy of Mrs. Miller’s work and conclusions.

In the Lord’s kind providence, our church’s Priscilla came into our midst several years ago with her husband (sadly, not named Aquila). We formed a fast friendship and our relationship over the years has been of immeasurable worth both to me individually and to our congregation.

Allow me to highlight some of the many ways our Priscilla serves our church in a vital capacity. As one tremendously gifted in administration, she has led (yes, led) planning efforts for church festivals, parties at her house that I defy anyone to surpass, organization for a wedding reception for our very first “church couple”, and even spearheaded the effort for a celebration feast we had when one of our members was cured of cancer. She teaches our children every other Wednesday night in the very exciting and engaging Creation Exploration Club, has helped plan and organize after worship activities in the past for our rapidly growing contingent of children, and has on more times than I can remember helped me edit and/or format various things for the church. She is a faithful wife, mother, grandmother, conscientious daughter, and resident good-idea factory. She has been and continues to be a model of biblical feminine virtue, ardor, submission, and selflessness.

Due to their love, encouragement, labor, and service for this congregation, I have zero hesitation and every motivation to regard them as my fellow workers in Christ Jesus (Rom 16:3). In fact, when they had to move away temporarily a couple of years ago, I told them in a letter that I regard them very much as a Priscilla and Aquila to me (although they embody that biblical couple more than I do Apollos).

As you can see, I have sufficient reason to be unendingly thankful for our church’s Priscilla. How it would bless all our churches to have women like her in abundance! Our Priscilla wields a tremendous amount of influence in our church. What is notably precious about her is that not a single time over these years of faithful and sacrificial outpouring for Christ and his people has our Priscilla ever clamored for recognition or grumbled about the role the Lord has assigned to women.

She, like the Priscilla in the Scriptures, is happy to serve the kingdom with her gifts in a manner consistent with the calling of God and the order he has established in his Church. This dear sister in the Lord knows and believes, among other things, that God has committed the work of teaching in the church to qualified men. In fact, she repudiates the notion of women seeking out that work. She knows that to teach men in the church is not her calling, and more than that, she is too devoted to doing all kinds of other crucial things for the church to bother with it. I heartily commend our Priscilla’s approach to life and service in the church to all.

As the opening line of Mrs. Miller’s post demonstrates, there has been a tremendous amount of discussion regarding women and teaching in the church. Today’s popular (and culturally acceptable) opinion is that if a woman is “gifted” and wants to teach men in the church, let her teach, for restricting women from teaching would stymie their usefulness and stifle their potential.

However, usefulness in service in the Church is not defined by the degree of authority, nor the visibility of the work, but rather by Christlike faithfulness to the Word of God. Does the Word of God, our final standard for faith and practice, call for women to teach men theology in the church? Is this the view of Reformed thought throughout history? Many proponents say yes, arguing vehemently and citing widely to further their arguments. Therefore, I would like to make two observations regarding the accuracy of Mrs. Miller’s work, one from the post itself, and another from a podcast.

After framing her topic, Mrs. Miller writes, “In all these discussions, I wonder what the modern Reformed Christian community would make of Priscilla if she lived today.” She proceeds to include many citations from recognized Church Fathers and Reformed authorities, including Chrysostom and Calvin.

Regarding the latter, she includes this quote from his commentary on Acts 18: “Calvin is even more explicit: ‘We see that one of the chief teachers of the Church was instructed by a woman.'” That is a very clear and convincing statement, to be sure, and no one ought to deny the reality that the real Priscilla had an important role in the early Church, particularly in the life of Apollos.

I went back and read the entire section from Calvin. He rightly makes much of Apollos’ humility in learning from both Priscilla and Aquila. However, the very next sentence in his commentary after the one quoted by Mrs. Miller reads as follows: “Notwithstanding, we must remember that Priscilla did execute this function of teaching at home in her own house, that she might not overthrow the order prescribed by God and nature” (emphasis mine). That is quite a qualifier, one that renders gives this citation a different meaning, which appears to recast Calvin’s meaning (interestingly, the exact citation and error occurs in Aimee Byrd’s No Little Women, page 142). It would be a different matter if Calvin’s distinction came a few paragraphs down the page after one of his polemical diatribes, but it did not. It was the next sentence.

We can find another similar out of context quote on the October 16, 2019 podcast from Mortification of Spin (available here). When asked by Todd Pruitt about her motivation for writing her book Beyond Authority and Submission, Mrs. Miller noted that she was moved in part by what she believed to be a prevalent and novel understanding of Genesis 3:16. She rejects the view that believes the woman’s desire toward her husband after the fall includes the sinful tendency to usurp or domineer. Around 9:50 on the interview, she says: “I am always suspicious of theology that is new. So the fact that this particular interpretation came out of the 1970s, and it was particularly a response to the feminism of the second wave feminists…because it was such a novel idea, it is concerning to me that we jump on it and say, ‘Well, yes, obviously this is what Scripture has been teaching, we have missed it all those other years beforehand.’ I don’t like any theology that does that.”

Her claim went unchallenged, but was she correct? Is that particular view about a woman’s fallen condition a reactionary, even revolutionary, complementarianism stemming from the 1970s? The answer is clearly no. To cite one example, Matthew Henry, who was neither a fringe author nor from the 1970s (he died in 1714), commented on Genesis 3:16:

This sentence amounts only to that command, Wives, be in subjection to your own husbands; but the entrance of sin has made that duty a punishment, which otherwise it would not have been. If man had not sinned, he would always have ruled with wisdom and love; and, if the woman had not sinned, she would always have obeyed with humility and meekness; and then the dominion would have been no grievance: but our own sin and folly make our yoke heavy. If Eve had not eaten forbidden fruit herself, and tempted her husband to eat it, she would never have complained of her subjection; therefore it ought never to be complained of, though harsh; but sin must be complained of, that made it so. Those wives who not only despise and disobey their husbands, but domineer over them, do not consider that they not only violate a divine law, but thwart a divine sentence [emphasis mine].

Disagreeing about an interpretation is one thing. Making an absolute statement that is absolutely not demonstrated, and using an exceedingly misleading citation to further an argument, is quite another. In a discussion that has very much to do with the external peace and order that Christ has established in his Church (Westminster Confession 20.4), we all need to be more careful, more precise, and most importantly, biblical.

Sadly, the way this discussion continues to develop makes it appear that those who seek to preserve God’s order for his Church are unkind and inhibiting women from the due exercise of gifts. However, in reality, to encourage women to teach men in the church is to be unkind. Commenting on 1 Timothy 2:11, William Hendriksen wrote:

Though these words…may sound a trifle unfriendly, in reality they are the very opposite. In fact, they are expressive of a feeling of tender sympathy and basic understanding. They mean: let a woman not enter a sphere of activity for which by dint of her very creation she is not suited. Let not a bird try to dwell under water. Let not a fish try to live on land. Let not a woman yearn to exercise authority over a man by lecturing him in public worship. For the sake both of herself and of the spiritual welfare of the church such unholy tampering with divine authority is forbidden.

His emphasis here, yes, is on public worship, and Mrs. Miller has been very clear that she does not believe women should be in ordained office or preaching. Nevertheless, the principle is exceedingly relevant. Teaching the Word of God is a function inseparable from the exercise of authority in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 12:28-29; Eph 4:11; Col 1:28, 1 Tim 2:11-12, 4:11, see also the OPC’s Book of Church Order, chapter 1, paragraphs 2-3). God does not equip women naturally or spiritually to exercise this function in the Church, and therefore does not call them to it (Gen 2:18; Ex 18:21; 1 Cor 14:34-35; 1 Tim 2:11-13, 3:2; 1 Pet 3:7).

I believe that the Priscilla of the Bible would be dumbfounded at this discussion, along with Mary, Elizabeth, Phoebe, Junia, Eve, and others, including Deborah. The latter wrote, “That the leaders took the lead in Israel, that the people offered themselves willingly, bless the LORD!” (Judges 5:2).

I encourage qualified and faithful men who lead in the Church to teach the Word clearly and unapologetically. I encourage all you faithful Priscillas to recognize the unparalleled worth of offering yourselves freely to the glory of God in those things for which he has blessed and equipped you. You do not have to teach men in the church to be a faithful servant of Christ. For these Priscillas we have plenty of room in our churches.

Rev. Mike Myers is a Minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and is Pastor of Heritage Presbyterian Church in Royston, Ga.