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People will laugh at us…

July 7, 2012

As the Church of England discusses the issue of women bishops, some traditionalists have warned that the church shouldn’t accept such female leadership just to placate an egalitarian society, while many other commentators have criticized the church’s refusal to get with the times, as it were.

This debate is not particularly modern. The nature of the leadership roles that women should take in the church (or if they should take them at all) has been been a subject of debate right back to the earliest Church Fathers. So too has the appeal to popular opinion. But ironically, in the earliest centuries of Christianity, the argument was the reverse. While now people might argue that the church risks being mocked as archaically patriarchal, in the late 2nd/early 3rd century AD, the Didascalia Apostolorum (a treatise spuriously purporting to have been written by the Apostles at the Council of Jerusalem) warned that:

For when the Gentiles who are being instructed hear the word of God not fittingly spoken, as it ought to be, unto edification of eternal life—and all the more in that it is spoken to them by a woman—how that our Lord clothed Himself in a body, and concerning the passion of Christ: they will mock and scoff, instead of applauding the word of doctrine; and she shall incur a heavy judgement for sin.

Even two millennia ago, women and leadership was an issue with which the church struggled to generate good PR.

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