Women’s role in the church

Women In Church

In which roles may women function in the church? My answer is ‘all and any’. Which offices may women fill within the church? My answer is ‘Deacons but not Elders’.

In 2010 I wrote a short article on this subject where I based my contention for male Eldership mainly on the biblical pattern of ‘headship’. However, I did not even touch on the so-called ‘limiting texts’ that Paul penned in First Timothy and 1 Corinthians. I have just re-read Frank Viola’s article on the supposed limitations placed on women within the church. He contends that a responsible reading of scriptures within their original contexts cannot result in female suppression. I agree with him but thought that I too should comment on some of the key issues.

But first I must restate the three ‘golden keys’ to responsible Bible interpretation, which are:

  1. Context

    An informed evaluation of biblical, textual, historical, and socio-economic context which yields the ‘first intended meaning’ of any particular passage. This usually yields the essential meaning of the passage. We then apply the truth of the passage into our current historical and cultural contexts.

  2. Christocentricity

    This is what Jesus taught, modelled, and revealed of the Godhead, and, is for me the final determinant of the meaning of a biblical passage. 

  3. Exhaustive Reference.

This requires a consideration and appreciation of what all of scripture has to say about the matter in question.

All too often church leaders come to their understanding of a passage by reading back into it the current conditions of their society. The role of women in the church is a prime example of this. Women play major leadership roles in post-modern politics and business so surely they should play a like role within the church. But, if we truly believe that the Bible is our trustworthy guide to faith and life then we must start with what we responsibly understand it is teaching, and then apply this in our current situations.

However, a responsible, interpretation of scripture must take full account of original Context, Christocentricity, and Exhaustive Reference. I am critical of the arguments based on current conditions, but I am equally critical of arguments based on a superficial and de-contextualized reading of scripture.

The two ‘limiting’ texts most often cited by those who restrict the role of women in the church are:

1 Timothy 2:11-15 ‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing — if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety’.

 

1 Corinthians 14:34-35 ‘Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church’.

Read the Frank Viola article for details of alternative, yet valid, ways of understanding these passages within the context of the churches of that day in Ephesus and Corinth. I really don’t need to add anything to his analysis in a short article such as this.

‘The Message’ translation of the Bible is very interpretive, but this is helpful in understanding how Eugene Petersen understands key texts. His rendering of 1 Timothy 2:11-15 supports Frank Viola’s understanding – ‘ I don’t let women take over and tell the men what to do. They should study to be quiet and obedient along with everyone else. Adam was made first, then Eve; woman was deceived first — our pioneer in sin! — with Adam right on her heels. On the other hand, her childbearing brought about salvation, reversing Eve. But this salvation only comes to those who continue in faith, love, and holiness, gathering it all into maturity. You can depend on this’.

Now, if we apply the Exhaustive Reference principle the matter becomes even clearer because the Old Testament, the Book of Acts, and Paul’s teaching on the gathered church point strongly to the kind of interpretation presented by Viola and others (myself included). For instance, just consider Acts 2:1-18, 16:11-15, 18:26, 21:9 and then add to this Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 on praying and prophesying .

As to the Christocentric principle, Jesus did not teach directly on the subject in question, but He did model an acceptance of women in ministry. For instance Luke 10:38-42 where Jesus accepts Mary positioning herself as a disciple by sitting at His feet to learn from Him. Also, read Luke 8:1-3 and 23:49 for insights into how Jesus interacted with women.

I think that a biblical context-based understanding of both prophecy and teaching also opens the door to the acceptance of women preachers and teachers within the church.

Just to be clear, I believe that women can and should minister in all capacities within and through the church, including that of Deacons, but should not serve as Elders, which is a headship function… but church government is another matter requiring another article.

Roughly one-half of mature and gifted Christians are women, yet in many churches they are relegated to teaching children, counselling other women, and doing admin-type tasks in the church… and this because a few texts are taken out of context – what a shame!

Save

print

7 Responses

  1. Paula Caldas

    Love this Chris .. I see this article enhancing woman,s role within the church to be so balanced in word and deed .

    Thank you .It’s so uplifting for us woman !

    Paula

  2. Colette

    I always value your in depth explanations on a subject as well as references back to Jesus and Christocentricity (a new big word I’ve just learnt).

  3. […] hope and pray that you will enjoy this weeks TruthTalk, which came out of THIS post, because I believe that it really helps clear up misconceptions about women’s role in the […]

  4. Lance Peppler

    Good day.

    Great article.

    Eldership isn’t the topic of this article and perhaps my comment could be used in future articles/podcasts.

    I believe the all male makeup of an eldership team leads to problems in many churches. It seems to me that eldership teams often consist of a group of successful executive type males, in their 40s+, who are excellent at managing businesses and people. While woman are just as likely to be great business people they almost always have higher emotional intelligence. Woman often have a different relationship with God that I think is vital for the running of a church. Woman are often more involved on the creative arts side with dancing and others. These elements seem to missing from an eldership team.

    Even on the male makeup of an eldership team I have very seldom seen worship leaders as part of this team as well as people from artists professions and even people from marketing.

    The result is often that the church isn’t creative and people focused enough. The church today is seeing a huge drop off of people under 30 who attend church. Is this surprising when a lot of churches are lead by male executives?

    To me an eldership team should be vibrant with creative energy. The role of finance and others could be decon roles. To aid the focus of the eldership team I think woman (and creative type men) would play a huge role in “managing” the church and steering it into the future.

    • Thanks for raising this Lance as I am sure many others share your sentiments.
      I believe strongly that we should start with what scripture reveals on a subject and then seek to apply that; we should not start with what we feel should be the application and then look for texts to justify our contentions. Not only should we start with scripture but we should attempt to understand what a biblical text teaches within the context of its original recipients. So, the question of male only Elders (or not) needs to be resolved from a responsible, in the original context, interpretation of the Bible. when we take the various Pauline teachings on the subject in question it is not hard to see that his (inspired) argument in favour of single gender Elders (male) is built on the spiritual authority (headship) structure that God has placed in both church and family and which are based on the headship/submission structure within the Godhead itself. Having noted this it is obvious to me that male Elders are foolish if they do not consult women and deploy them in key leadership roles within the church (for all the reasons you give). Elders are the spiritual authority in the church but women can and should serve as Deacons (in business terms Deacons would be managers/supervisors etc.).

      Here is an extract from the systematic theology book I wrote many many years ago – hope it helps.

      ‘The real difference between Elders and Deacons is that Elders carry spiritual authority and responsibility whereas Deacons are functional managers operating under the oversight of the Elders.
      In the Godhead the three are equal but there is a difference in function and relationship (JN 1:18 3:16,18 1 JN 4:9 JN 14:26 16:7). In the family, the man is the head of the house (EPH 5:23) yet the wife is his equal in the sight of God. In the Church, the Elders stand as a team in the place of the ‘helpmate’ of the church family. This is an important concept. Elders are often perceived as standing in the place of ‘fathers’ of the local church in that their relationship to other members is seen as more ‘vertical’ than ‘horizontal’. Correctly understood, however, it is the Lord Jesus alone who is the ‘patriarchal’ head of the extended family of the local church, and the Elders are his helpmates who, together with him, nurture the other members of the church. A question which has for a long time ‘exercised’ the Church is ‘Can a woman be an Elder?’ My contention is that a woman can and should function in every office and ministry of the Church except that of an Elder. The issue is not one of superiority, for all are equal in the Church, but of function and spiritual authority.
      The Scriptures which bear on the issue of male eldership all have to do with ‘headship’ and submission (See 1 TIM 2:11-14 and 1 COR 11:2-16) and not equality or competence. Paul traces the model of headship back to Adam and spells out clearly that Scriptural authority is a part of male spiritual functionality (In the same way that child-bearing is a part of female physiological functionality). Eldership is, therefore, a function for which the male alone is equipped; it is not superior to any other ‘body’ function, it is merely different.

Leave a Reply