Commenting on the concept of a “diaconate of women,” some suggest that:
“The same patristic sources that attest to the existence of women deacons emphatically state that women could never be priests. For Jesus Christ chose only men for this ministry and the Church has always honored this tradition. The Church has consistently excluded women from teaching or from any position of authority in spiritual matters. The deeper ground for all this… lies in God’s decision to become incarnate as a man, so that only men can adequately represent the incarnate Son of God.” (John Wijngaards, Women Deacons in the Early Church, 7).
Let’s place this quote in context.
First, it comes from the perspective of a Roman Catholic. Thus, there’s a background understanding of a Roman Catholic ecclesiology, understanding of authority, and priesthood. Second, it’s not the perspective of the author (John Wijngaards), but of the perspective of those within the Roman Catholic Church who are opposed to women serving as ordained deacons.
Protestants will naturally reject many of the underlying presuppositions that are found in this quote, but the area that stands out the most to me is the statement that “only men can adequately represent the incarnate Son of God.” I find that statement extremely problematic, for two reasons:
(1) Human beings, both male and female, were created in the image of God. I believe that the proper exegesis of Genesis 5:1-2 will conclude that both male and female are included as being in the image of God. As Mathews states:
“By imitating 1:27–28, the author ties the significance of the genealogy to creation theology, where human life stands in the descent of God (cf. “sons of God,” 6:2) and is the preeminent recipient of God’s blessing. This linkage is achieved by a number of lexical repetitions, including “man,” “created,” “likeness,” “male and female,” and “blessed.” The same creation themes of 1:1–2:3 are rehearsed in 5:1b–2 by its appeal to the parade passage of the creation narrative, the making and blessing of mankind (1:26–28). Divine image and blessing are continued among the human family, it would seem, without suspension.” (K. A. Mathews, Genesis 1-11:26 [New American Commentary], 307)
This means that men and women were both given the same “likeness” in representing God, so any assumption that states that all of Christ’s representatives are all male seems to overlook the basic doctrine of Imago Dei.
(2) The representative of Christ on earth is first and foremost the Holy Spirit (cf. John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). The Spirit is given to those who are in Christ regardless of gender (cf. Eph. 1:13; Rom. 8:9).
(3) The Great Commission and the Sacraments were given to the Church as a collective whole, not to a specific gender (cf. Matt. 28:18-20; Luke 22:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:24-34). No where in Scripture are we informed that the mission and ordinances are for men only. That’s a foreign assumption that is read into our theology.
This is not to suggest that I see no distinctions made between gender roles in Scripture, but that using the argument that “only men can adequately represent the incarnate Son of God” is not a great place to begin because it overlooks Imago Dei, the outpouring of the Spirit, and commission of the collective Church.
For further thinking, I’d also recommend that you check out Thabiti Anyabwile’s article, “I’m a Complementarian, But… Women Can Be Deacons” too.
Luke is a pastor-theologian living in northern California, serving as a co-lead pastor with his life, Dawn, at the Red Bluff Vineyard. Father of five amazing kids, when Luke isn’t hanging with his family, reading or writing theology, he moonlights as a fly fishing guide for Confluence Outfitters. He blogs regularly at LukeGeraty.com and regularly contributes to his YouTube channel.