The role of women is a difficult place to start because there are several predicates we have to cover before you can see where I’m coming from. For example, I don’t think you can properly interpret 1 Tim 2:11-15 until you’ve sorted through Gen 1 -3 and the chapters in Judges on Deborah, among other things. And I don’t think the passages dealing with the appointment of elders can be fully understood unless we first reach common ground on the Spirit and the nature of law under the new covenant. That makes your questions very appropriate.
You asked, “Do you think the N.T. is a law/pattern that we are to follow and if we break that law/pattern is it a sin?”
The New Testament use of “law”
The New Testament is not a law. It does speak of law that Christians are to conform to.
“Law” is used different ways in the NT. For example,
(Rom 8:1-2) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
Yes, the law of the Spirit applies to Christians. The law of sin and death does not. Just so, Paul writes in Galatians —
(Gal 6:2) Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
But he also writes,
(Gal 5:4) You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Obviously, seeking justification by law is a serious, damnable mistake. And as I explained in an earlier post, “justified” refers not only to God’s initial forgiveness of us at baptism, but to his ongoing forgiveness.
And if it’s damnable to seek justification by law, and yet there remains a “law of the Spirit” and a “law of Christ” that apply to Christians, we need to seriously consider how to make the distinction between what damns and what doesn’t.
Now, in your question you ask about “law/pattern,” and I’m not willing to concede that those are the same thing, because it depends on what you mean by each. “Pattern” is a word used in 20th Century Church of Christ polemics to refer to rules gathered from inferences from inferences and treated as holy writ. I don’t think that’s the New Testament sense of the word. Indeed, “pattern” is used in different senses in different places in the New Testament — sometimes positively and sometimes negatively.
Commands, the heart, and the Spirit
So let me repeat what I’ve said here many times. Yes, we must obey God’s commands. All of them, but only those that are truly commands. But our salvation doesn’t depend on our perfect obedience or our perfect understanding. It depends on the state of our hearts. And there are several words that the New Testament writers use to describe the required state.
Sometimes the scriptures say that all with “faith” are saved. This is very commonly said in the New Testament. Other scriptures speak of the necessity of obedience or of submission to Jesus as Lord or of repentance. I take those three to be virtual synonyms. And yet others passages say that all believers who love are saved. (Forgive me for not citing specific texts, but I’m sure you know them very well, and I’m short on time today.)
And the part that ties it all together is the scripture’s teachings on the present work of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the Christian. If you omit that doctrine, well, it’s hard not to turn to legalism — which is why Paul concludes Rom 1 – 8 with a discussion of the Spirit’s work in us, and he concludes Gal 1 – 5 the same way. A grasp of the Spirit’s work in us makes it all make sense.
You asked, “If you do not think the N.T. is as law/pattern for us to follow, then what is it?”
There are five books of history. There’s one book of apocalyptic literature. The rest are epistles, either general or personal. None is a constitution or book of statutes. None reads anything like the Law of Moses.
And the New Testament, through the life and teachings of Jesus, and the explanations and applications given us, show us not only how to attain the resurrection, but how to become truly human as God meant for us to be. The texts show us how God is working to restore us to the image of God as we were always intended to be from the beginning.
This includes many things, but it particularly includes restoring us to right relationship with God (“faith”) and with others (“love”) through the work of the Spirit within us. It teaches us how God is working through the Spirit to shape his people into a community that is the body of Christ, continuing Christ’s work on earth, in preparation for the Kingdom, which has come, is coming, and hasn’t yet come in its fullness.
And it teaches us how God intends to restore the Creation itself to the redeemed perfection he always intended for it to have.
The church — and those of us who are part of the church — are therefore called and elected to participate with God in his redemptive mission, not out of obligation or fear, but for the same reasons God redeems — out of his unconditional love.
You see, if we love others because we are afraid of damnation if we don’t, it’s not love for others at all — it’s self-love, seeking to save our skins by our obedience. And that’s one reason that the law of sin and death is the law of sin and death. That’s one reason why seeking to be justified by works damns — it doesn’t lead to actual love.
For that matter, fear of damnation cannot lead to true worship, because true worship comes from those who worship God out of love for God. If we worship out of fear for our own skins, well, that’s self-worship, seeking to protect ourselves, worshiping God out of love for ourselves.
We have to be changed to be saved, and we have to flee teachings that declare our salvation is based on our ability to discern God’s semi-secret will hidden in the silences so we can be so doctrinally pure that he won’t damn us. It’s the wrong kind of law and the wrong kind of obedience.
But when we obey because we share in God’s love for the lost and the poor and broken and because we want to worship God for fear our hearts will burst if we don’t, and when that is driven by the Spirit in us and by the gospel of truth, that’s worship in Spirit and in truth — and that’s a response to the law of the Spirit.
But I’ve gotten far, far ahead of myself.
Where to begin
And so, in the context of the role of women, I don’t think we can have a profitable discussion without reaching an accord on these fundamental issues. If you and I can’t come to terms on the Spirit, we’ll likely disagree on everything else, making the discussion entirely futile, because my interpretation of, just for example, the qualifications of an elder, is built in part on my understanding of the Spirit. And if we insist on two different kinds of law, well, we’re going to disagree on what the law regarding women is.
I discuss these issues in several places — and I keep meaning to write a new series on the Spirit — but the likeliest place to start such a discussion would be over at the series called Amazing Grace. I’d invite you to read the first post and then comment over there whether you agree or disagree, and we’ll talk our way through it. And by the time we get to the end, I you may already be persuaded regarding the role of women, but if not, we can then talk about women based on a common apprehension of the gospel and the Spirit. And there’s no other way to profitably talk about the role of women. Otherwise, we’ll just talk past one another as though we’re speaking different languages.