Now, for those interested in a thorough study on the role of women, read Buried Talents. But the point can be made simply enough.
As much as we like to complain that church shouldn’t be turned into entertainment, we often reason regarding women as follows:
- Church is set in a building that is very much like a theater.
- In a theater, the performers are the people who stand up. The people buying tickets sit.
- Therefore, anyone who stands is a performer.
- The performers are very important persons — people pay to see the performers — and so the performers must be men.
Now, we don’t consciously think this way, but this is how we think. After all, we refuse to let women pass communion trays. Now, passing food from row to row is obviously a silent, servant role. In some homes, passing food from place to place is done by actual servants. It’s very rarely done by the husband. In fact, in our culture, it’s a female role. And yet we don’t let women do it in church. Why not? Well, because it involves standing up, that is, being a part of the show we all came to see.
Under the most conservative possible reading of the role-of-women verses, women aren’t allowed to speak, teach, or have authority over men. Passing grape juice and bread from row to row is none of these things — not even close! And yet we see the job as involving a male-leadership role purely because it’s done while standing. After all, no one complains if women pass the emblems side to side while sitting. It’s the same job.
Now, as 1 Cor. 14:33-35 is often interpreted to prohibit women from speaking out loud during the assembly, I can see an objection to a woman administering a baptism during the assembly. I think it’s really okay, but I fully sympathize with those who would disagree.
But this would hardly keep a woman from participating as her husband does the speaking — or at a time other than the assembly.
1 Tim. 2:11-15 is usually interpreted as prohibiting a woman from exercising authority, and some might be concerned that a woman’s participating in a baptismal ceremony would be wrong. We unconsciously borrow a lot of our theology from Catholicism. And among Catholics, only the priest has authority to administer baptism. In fact, in apostolic succession churches, such as the Episcopalians and Methodists, the same idea holds. We sometimes forget that we aren’t Catholic and don’t have to worry about such things. No one needs special authority to baptize a convert.
Therefore, baptizing a convert is not an act of authority. It’s certainly not the imposition of authority over a Christian. Rather, it’s simply the conclusion of evangelizing a lost soul. And we are well aware that the Bible approves Priscilla’s teaching of the lost.
More fundamentally, women can hardly be criticized for obeying a command.
(Matt. 28:18) Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
The command is to both make disciples and to baptize. The command is not limited to men. In fact, the apostles are told to teach all their converts to “obey everything I have commanded you.” This plainly means that women are commanded to baptize. And the authority they exercise is not theirs, but Jesus’. It makes a difference.
Of course, we could avoid the problem altogether by going the apostolic succession route and insisting that all baptisms be performed by our clergy. But surely it would be better to really do what the Bible says, even when it’s a bit uncomfortable. And we should be confident that if we let God lead us, we’ll be blessed. And my experience is that families and congregations are deeply, profoundly, richly blessed as we open the baptistry up to families and friends to delight in rebirths together.