Can Women Lead The Lord's Supper? (12.10.13)
Did They Already Do So In Corinth? (3rd in recent series)
In Table of Lord Meditation n. 18 we saw from scripture that Jesus' apostles were chosen by the prophet Himself to announce his gospel to all humankind.
They were never ordained to any priestly church office, but like all Christians their priestly service flowed from God's election according to 1Peter2,5 and 9.
There is no such thing in the New Testament as ordination to a priesthood office (Ephesians 4,11 lists the offices as apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers). So the clamor for women's ordination to a supposed New Testament office of priesthood is off the biblical track from the get go!
Jesus studiously did not ordain anyone to a priesthood before or after His resurrection, perhaps because it was the very physical based Temple priesthood that handed him over to Rome for execution (See also Ephesians2,18-21 where Paul purposely declines to describe us even as a universal Spiritual priesthood like 1Peter 2,5;9, likely due to various pagan priesthoods in Ephesus, and instead says we all have access to the Father through the one Spirit,v. 18 a priestly idea, but instead defines us all as "members of God's household", v.19).
Rather, the New Testament clearly speaks only one time of a local pastor ordained by the laying on of hands by local elders (1Timothy4,14).
In Table of Lord Meditation n. 20, after praising the Lord that two Vermonters have been called to celebrate the supper in a biblical way (one a woman), we saw that scripture teaches that the Lord's supper is a Spiritual sacrifice, and thus not tied to any biologically based male priesthood performing physical sacrifices.
These two arguments are built upon the Apostolic doctrine and fellowship of Acts 2,42, ie repentant faith, water baptism in Jesus' Name, and Holy Ghost Baptism, unto becoming temples of the Holy Ghost.
This new doctrine from Acts specifically included (likely frequent) breaking of bread, the celebration of the Lord's Supper.
The doctrine of Baptism of the Holy Ghost is especially important for this question because it fulfills God's holiness requirement and is the new biblical basis of God making all His people a kingdom of priests according to His eternal will according to Exodus 19,6 and 1Peter 2,5 and 9.
This baptism, let's not miss it, also informs the One Body-One Spirit-One Faith unity that is the primary and recurring scriptural core of the Apostle Paul's teaching on the supper per 1Corinthians Chapters 10, 11 and 12, including the following highlights:
1Corinthians10,16-faithful communion with the Spirit through focusing on Christ's physical body on the cross, and also communion of the individual with and among the one Spirit-filled local church body;
1Corinthians11,28-29- discerning by faith and the Holy Spirit these same two bodies, and also the needs of the local church;
1Corinthians12,27- the One-Spirit-body-church enjoys the ministry and mutual service gifts provided by and within Jesus' one risen body.
In this third meditation, the Lord is leading us to examine the teaching and principles of 1Corinthians10-12 to find out whether these speak to our specific question and give us a biblical basis to answer it.
These three chapters are the most detailed and on point in the New Testament regarding the Lord's Supper. For this reason they are to be given primacy in answering the question, if indeed it can be answered.
I raise this possibility of not being able to answer the question in that even the briefest reading shows that Paul is more concerned with the crisis of Spiritual unity in church, as achieved or mended by a fully faithful celebration of the supper, than telling us everything about who led the supper (and if it was one person), and how it was led, and why.
But this doesn't necessarily mean an answer cannot be garnered from these scriptures.
Biblical, Social-Contextual and Historical Facts May Also Help
First off, our bible (our guide to faith and practice) is largely silent about any one individual (after Jesus anyway) leading the Supper, but 1Corinthians10,16 suggests it was the whole community:
"the cup of blessing which we bless;"
and "the bread which we break."
This leaves us with two major possibilities at the outset:
1. the rightful celebration of the supper, from begining to end, is led by the community per the egalitarian core principle of these three chapters: One Faith, One Spirit, One Baptism, One Body, One bread and One Cup, a principle Paul argues is clearly demonstrated by the Supper;
2. Paul was speaking loosely about the "we" of the consecration at 1Corinthians 10,16, and it was really led by the pastor at Corinth, and or his delegate(s), even if scripture here or elsewhere never specifically says so.
In the face of these two divergent possibilities, we bible students need not let our minds run too quickly to Rome and it's male priesthood approach, or to the Protestant default setting of "the Pastor decides."
Such hastiness might not do justice to 1Corinthians10-12, or other texts demonstrated throughout these many meditations.
Another biblical fact must also be mentioned before we go deeper into 1Corinthians10-12.
That is, the Lord's supper in the bible was preceded by a communal meal, likely a weekly help to the poorer folks of the congregation (1Corinthians 11,17-22, Jude v4 and v12).
But some richer folks, who probably also brought the food, were too impatient to wait for the poorer, and later arriving working folks, and meanwhile got tipsy and ate all they wanted, while the poor went hungry all through the Lord's Supper.
This factional divide- rich surfeited folks versus poor hungry folks- was just one of several that prevented the Holy Spirit unity and communion of the church body among themselves and with the risen Jesus.
Paul's advice was that it was better to do such feasting at home than humiliate their Spiritual brothers and sisters (v.22).
It is likely that this communal meal was largely the responsibility of the women in the local community. Likewise these church gatherings were probably held in the homes of the more well to do women (with their husbands permission of course, Ehrman, The New Testament, Oxford, 3rd ed. 2004; c. 24 ).
This clearly would have the effect of bringing the leadership of women to the fore (as any male pastor in any active church that serves food knows).
It's not hard to envision a situation whereby prominent women were coordinating the feeding shifts of the several factions, in the limited quarters of their own homes (cf Erhman, especially p. 405), all the while wrestling with honor bound Greco-Roman customs of social and gender precedence and then reconciling these with their new found Christian Spiritual equality of the initial agape age of the church.
This equality is a biblical based equality built on the Jewish based scriptural complementarity of men and women, both made in the Spiritual image and likeness of God (Genesis 1,27), and which is now based on Baptism (and it's logical fullness, baptism in the Spirit) which makes Christ's Spiritual body one: "There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither bond or free, there is neither male nor female: for all are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians3,28)
Likewise 1Corinthians12,13: "For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body- whether Jews or gentiles, slave or free we were all given the one Spirit to drink."
This church hospitality management was no easy feat and from it women leaders were likely emboldened to also speak up in worship, even some without a veil over their heads, even without checking in with their husband or pastor (1Corinthians11,5).
A veil testified to a women's submission to some male authority, or they prayed and prophesied with hair so short (unveiled so to speak) that it distracted some folks.
And consider this possibility- that also would have increased the worship role of women- perhaps there was no pastor on site in Corinth.
This sounds crazy, but 1Corinthians16,17 has a committee of three- Stephanas (some think her a woman, who baptized her family, 1Corinthians1,16), Fortunatas and Achaicus- delivering news of the church.
This explains why Paul hopefully, but half-heartedly says at 1Corinthians 11,18 that Corinth "should appreciate people like these", as if they were a fledgling deacon's board chasing down their always-on-the-move Apostle-pastor.
If there was a pastor in charge on site (or perhaps he fell), why didn't Paul just tell the many emissaries from Corinth "your pastor can take care of it until I get there."
We also know that it was the apparently unattached Chloe's household per 1Corinthians1,11 (slaves, relatives?) that brought the bad news of factions to Paul, and perhaps also raised the charged up questions about sex, chastity and virginity of 1Corinthians 7.
Perhaps Paul never delegated anyone pastoral authority in his absence, and then also took with him the church's founders, Prisca and Aquila (Acts 18,1-2) on his apostolic journeys out of Corinth (1Corinthians 16,19).
In other words, Paul simply did all he could to pastor Corinth by letter, delegate (Titus and two others per 2Corinthians8,16-24), and in person.
It's hard enough to pastor in person, but how about a charismatic, cosmopolitan church of urban pioneer Christians, having moral, spiritual, leadership, unity, and worship crises all at once?
And what is Paul's remedy (1Corinthians11,34c suggests even more crisis which he would address in person) to save the Spiritual crisis in worship?
His repeated appeal to the egalitarian one body-one Spirit, everyone consecrates teaching that explains chapters 10,11 and 12.
The fact that Paul did not insist here on a male only celebration of the Lord's supper, in the midst of the worship crisis, must enter into our discussion as to women blessing the bread and wine.
Why No Women At Last Supper?
Yes Jesus only invited his male apostles to his "last supper", or better said his "last seder." This was so because the wives and families and kin and clan were likely back in Galillee (Exodus 12,4), understandably not in Jerusalem where it was clearly unsafe to be associated with Jesus.
This "last seder" was not a priestly Temple sacrifice, but one whereby the male clan leader-donor of the physical blood sacrifice had the duty to slay it and bless it per Leviticus 1,5; 3,2;3,8 and 3,13. (New JB, Doubleday, 1985, n. f. p. 579)
This passover sacrifice was eaten at "home" not at a Temple or among any physical Temple Priesthood.
(Only later when the Passover feast pilgrims became so numerous did the lower caste of the Temple priesthood also help slaughter and bless the lambs, 2Chronicles 30,17ff and Ezekiel 44,11, Ibid. It would be interesting to know if Jesus allowed this Temple priesthood, who was about to slaughter him, to slaughter and bless the lamb they ate at his "last seder?")
Jesus' last seder morphed into Jesus' Lord's Supper or new seder (Luke 22,19-20), but the point remains there was no institution of a new order of male priests making physical sacrifices.
Jesus' "do this in memory of me" (Luke 22,19) prophesies into existence our new post resurrectional Spiritual sacrifice of His Supper whereby we as one body all offer bread and wine, and then our consecration provides his risen body, and ever flowing "blood." (cf John 19,34)
The Apostles at the last seder-new seder were fishermen followers from Galillee, followers of their prophet and neighbor from Nazareth. They were attending his yearly seder, that became a new seder, a new liberation supper, not the establishment of a future Roman priestly order.
They were nor ordained into any male priestly order at this last seder-supper. They were commanded to do this prophetic supper in the future.
In the gospel of John, which doesn't have a historically based last supper, but a visionary based last supper (John 6), John at 20,21-22 breathes on the apostles. This was not an ordination, but the imparting, or future imparting of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, part of their sending, and a necessary part of any apostles' power of discernment as to when a public sinner would be welcomed back into the church.
So neither in the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke or John is there a "Holy Thursday" institution of a male priestly ritual or the delegation of private "confession" (ie the sacrament of penance) that somehow must be priestly in origin. It is worth noting here that the "sacrament" of individual confession mandated once a year by the Vatican church didn't become dogma until the 13th century.
The Apostles Paul and Peter knew nothing of an ordained Christian male priesthood that celebrated a physical sacrifice of the mass or heard individual confessions.
Whereas, and furthermore, the brilliant Jewish Apostle Paul, schooled in the mutual and bible based complementarity of men and women, both, as we said, made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis1,27), referred to women at Corinth "praying" and "prophesying" during the Lord's Supper (1Corinthians 11,5).
Praying and prophesying, by women in Corinth, seem to be of a like and high importance to the whole community blessing of the bread and cup.
Leviticus 6,10-11: "The portion I give them of the food burnt for me must not be baked with leaven; it is especially holy, like the sacrifice for sin and reparation. All male descendants of Aaron are entitled to eat this portion of the food burnt to Yahweh and anyone who touches it will become holy."
[male priests totally consecrated, after ordination, so only they can consecrate, handle and eat consecrated food]
1Corinthians6,19: "But do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you do not belong to yourselves?"
Galatians 3,27-28: As many as you have been baptized into Christ Jesus have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew or Greek, there is neither slave or freeman, there is neither male or female, because you are all one in Christ Jesus."
1Corinthians 11,29: "For whoever eats and drinks without due appreciation [both men and women can handle holy things of the Spiritual sacrifice of the supper, and discern the body) of the body of Christ eats and drinks to his own condemnation."
1Corinthians11,5: "But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head [her husband or pastor] for that is one and the same as if her head is shorn or shaved."
We're not talking here about women officially teaching as apostles, prophets, evangelists, Pastors, or otherwise.
The Scriptures restrict that, 1Timothy 2,15, likely after problems with false prophecy by women in Ephesus, but evangelizing or prophesying after water-holy ghost baptism, and veiled, that is under proper pastoral authority, or a husband's authority, the author sees nothing scriptural that excludes women from this.
While we are not talking about pastoring (nor any supposed ordained priesthood), we are still stumbling upon something extraordinary in 1Corinthians chapters 10-12, the worthy rediscovery of consecration of the bread and wine by the entire body of Christ.
Yes biblical Corinth was a church in crisis, but it was also a time when baptism in the one Spirit and home based fellowship also made it easy to discern the body on the cross, and the needs of the local "body", a time when women were already fully seen as fitting Temples of the Holy Ghost, and therefore were allowed to pray and prophesy in public, even before, or perhaps during, the Lord's supper.
We are talking about a time when the Apostle Paul goes out of his way to personally explain the Spiritual unity of the church in terms of the entire community blessing the cup and breaking the bread.
What we have here is a biblical glimpse, during a time of varied crises, including in worship, the earliest and fullest biblical expression of the deeply egalitarian and powerful Spiritual roots of the Lord's Supper.
The unity in worship crisis was part of the many problems in Corinth, but the rightful celebration of the Lord's Supper was part of the Spiritual solution to all the community's problems.
Yes, this early and biblical teaching about the Lord's Supper contradicts both later and present Roman and Protestant practices.
It clearly blunts the clericalization of the historical Roman church, that moved the church out of households into large public buildings provided by the emperor, and then unbiblically and politically appropriated the New Testament offices of Ephesians 4,11 and elsewhere, unto it's own and singular office known as their "traditional" priesthood.
It also challenges the mainline Protestant churches to confront the egalitarian basis of Holy Ghost based universal priesthood and to discover the power of the real presence of the risen Jesus in the cup and bread, and the real egalitarian presence of an actual Spirit based fellowship, a unity beyond the word "unity", the fact and Spiritual experience of communion itself, not talk about communion and symbols.
Is This Teaching All Too Much?
Now before I stop, I can hear folks asking "are you going to make church worship policy based on messy Corinth?"
Forgive me, but that sure sounds like "are you going to make salvation doctrine based on the holy rollers in the Book of Acts?
Which sort if sounds like "are you going to make endtime doctrine from the really difficult book of Revelation?"
Which sort of sounds like "are you really going to study the first chapters of Genesis for some sort of evil serpent in the garden and in the world?"
Which leaves us with a couple of verses from 1 and 2Peter acceptable to one faction of the church, and a couple from Romans on the other.
How about the whole counsel of God (Acts 20,27)? This includes the guidance of the Holy Ghost, especially necessary in regards to continuing to receive His word and abide in it (John8,31)?
Conclusion: One Bread, One Cup, One Body, One Spirit Is What a Revived Biblical Lord's Supper Is About
It's time to rediscover that 1Corinthians10-12 teaches that men and women, born again of the water and the Spirit (John 3,5), temples of the Holy Ghost, are both eligible to consecrate the bread and wine.
What's The Spirit Saying?
1. "Wherever two or three are gathered-I am in their midst."
He is in our midst. He lives inside men and women and has made us all worthy, and His word tells us that we bless the cup and break the bread of the supper.
Such a teaching goes a long way towards recognizing the deeply egalitarian beginings of our biblical worship, our faith, and the earliest biblical history of our church life.
It's not like this teaching says "women go free and pray and prophesy and consecrate without any male pastoral authority involved." (Thus, 1Timothy2,8, men must raise holy hands, ie there must be a congregation made up of both men and women).
2. It might just heal some of the factions in our own day too?
And I also hear:
3. "Why can't the last ones at my cross (Luke23,28; 23,49, Mark15,40) and the first ones waiting at my tomb (Luke 24,1 and Matthew 28,61; and Mark 15,47-16,11) be welcomed around my table?
4. "Being around the table is not teaching by women- it's testimony to my light in them."
for short video of supper: http://vimeo.com/63572579
If you or your church would like coaching regarding a revived and biblically based Lord's Supper, please contact us.
For Priscilla at the table of the Lord in Rome, from this same series: http://www.zionpentecostmission.com/table-of-lord-meditation-n.-26.html
PREACHING HOUR TV
TUESDAY EVENINGS - 8PM EST
Preaching Hour TV weekly on Cox PATV Channel 15 in Cheshire, Southington and Meriden CT and on VCAM Channel 15 10pm Fridays in Burlington VT.read more...
Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...