Women in Church Ministry

Title: Women in Church Ministry

Text: 1 Timothy 2:11-14

Time: September 25th, 2008

There are two major issues today that tempt both Christian men and women to depart from following the biblical teachings; the first is the issue of submission by wives to their husbands, and the second is that woman are not permitted to teach or hold a position of authority over men in the church. Although starting from the early church, taught clearly in the Bible, and carried out for nearly two thousand years of Christian church history, these truths mentioned above have become established; yet today, they are being questioned and also rejected by a growing number of Christians. Why? Is it because new discoveries have been made concerning the accuracy of the biblical text? No. Is it because new archaeological findings show that there is evidence for early Christian activity that contradicts the established biblical teaching? No. Why then are these seemingly established biblical teachings, teachings that the Christian faithful of all ages and all places have overwhelmingly embraced, why are these teachings now questioned? Why are they now being rejected in many leading churches and Christian educational institutions, such as college and seminaries? Why are denominations and church leaders, pastors and even ordinary Christians now questioning something that seemingly the Bible is so clear about and church history for two thousands years is apparently so unanimous on? One word – feminism. Around the late 60s and early 70s there arose a social movement in the U.S. that basically rejected virtually all traditional moral values or absolute truths. Absolute moral authority was seen as incompatible with personal freedom, and so during the 60s and 70s these values were rejected in favor of relativism. Relativism was championed as more compatible with the highest personal freedom. Anything that limited personal freedom was seen as bad; anything that promoted personal free was seen as good. Today, feminism is no longer an active social movement but its influence has been established, its dominance has now been largely conceded. The dominant social thinking today in society is feminist, even if it doesn’t go by that label. Christians too are influenced by feminism, whether they know it or not. Hardly anyone calls himself or herself a feminist any more — they don’t have to, because almost everyone is a feminist in some sense by virtue of holding to the basic beliefs and practices of feminism. That’s how dominant this social philosophy is today. Ok, now where do Christianity, the Christian church, and individual Christians stand in respect to the feminist movement? Answer – for the most part Christianity, the Christian church and Christians are caught up in feminism just like all of society. That doesn’t mean that all churches and all Christians are committed to feminism to the same degree, but almost everyone holds to at least some form of feminist philosophy. It’s almost impossible not to, being brought up and living in the modern feminist social setting, which is America today. Now the problem for the church and for Christians is that many or most of the basic tenets of feminist belief contradict the Bible and Christian historical teachings. If you don’t believe it, let’s examine together an example of the Bible’s teaching concerning guidelines and regulations for women in church ministry. 1 Timothy 2:11-14 (read). Let’s look at three things.

First, The Bible teaches that women should not teach men in the church. 1 Timothy 2:11-12, “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.” Now some people get confused as to the extent of Paul’s command. The Apostle is talking about in the church, at the assembled gatherings, during the time of corporate worship. He is not saying that woman can’t ever teach men anyplace, at any time, under any circumstances. There are plenty of times and places where woman not only can teach men, but should teach men things. But in the church, in respect to God’s will and God’s Word, God wants adult males to teach both men and women; and for some reason known only to God, he doesn’t want women to teach adult males God’s Word in the church. Perhaps verses 13 and 14 give Paul’s explanation — although it’s still hard to understand completely the meaning of the explanation: “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.” Whatever the explanation means, it has something to do with the historical fact that Adam was created first, and Eve was the first to be deceived. The explanation as to why men are to teach in the church and why women are not to teach men in the church seems to be based on what happened way back in the Garden of Eden. It has something to do with the priority of Adam and Eve being deceived. Is Paul saying woman are more susceptible to spiritual deception than men? There is some evidence from the history of the church that this might be the case. For example, one could point to the teachings of the Christian Science cult founder Mary Baker Eddy as evidence that a woman can lead people into great deception when they teach in ways contrary to the Bible. However, the same can be true with men also. As an example of this we need think no further than the Mormon cult founder Joseph Smith. In fact, historically, probably more people have been led into spiritual deception and false teachings through men than by women. So I’m not entirely satisfied that the real explanation for God’s prohibition of women teaching men in the church is based on the fact that women are more susceptible to deception than men. But the truth is that we don’t have to understand the explanation as to why it is so, in order to accept that it is so. The Bible teaches clearly that it is so – God forbids women from teaching men in the church: “I do not permit a woman to teach.” This is how it has always been understand in Christianity and there is no good reason to change it today, despite objections by a feminist-influenced culture. God’s Word says it, we believe it, that settles it.

Second, the Bible teaches that woman should not hold positions of authority over men in the church. 1 Timothy 2:11-12, “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.” Paul teaches that women are not permitted to have authority over men in the church. He doesn’t say, nor does the Bible teach, that women should not hold positions of authority in society in general. For example, the Queen of England doesn’t seem to be a violation of any biblical teaching. Deborah of the Old Testament seems to be an example of a woman serving in a position of authority in government: “Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was leading Israel at that time.” This is an example of a woman in a position of authority in government. The reference to prophetess and prophecy also raises another question more directly related to the New Testament – there are female prophetesses mentioned in the record of the early Christian church who are given freedom to speak in the church – how does this fit in with the prohibition against women teaching and having authority over men? The answer is that prophecy is different than teaching and holding positions of authority. Prophecy is a more spontaneous and immediately inspired action rather than the more deliberate and regular teaching and leading positions in the church. In fact, Paul seems to give clear instructions for prophecy in the church, and these instructions included women: “Two or three prophets should speak and the others should weigh carefully what is said,” 1 Corinthians 14:29. In contrast to the teaching ministry of the church, which is reserved for men, prophecy doesn’t involved holding a position of authority, but rather whatever is said in a prophetic utterance must be “weighed” and evaluated by all. The church is not to just believe every prophecy, but to evaluate it, test it, think about it, reflect on it. The assumption is that if after evaluation, and if the word seems sound, then and only then is it accepted by the church as helpful. But the regular teaching of God’s Word is different. It is to be received with more confidence and certainty because it is the Word of God and doesn’t have to prove itself worthy as a prophetic word does. Prophetic words can then be given by women also, because no authority is required. Thus, we see prophetesses in the New Testament in fulfillment of the Acts 2:17-18 prophecy, “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and DAUGHTERS will prophesy. . . . Even on my servants, both men and WOMEN, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” So the prohibition is in respect to teaching and holding a position of authority over men in the church. This does not prevent, however, women from giving input and exerting great spiritual influence in the church.

Third, the Apostle Paul is not simply giving his own personal opinion, but rather giving God’s Word and God’s will for all Christians. 1 Timothy 2:11-12, “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.” Now some people today claim that while Paul is certainly teaching what the Bible says, it isn’t binding on all Christians because either Paul was giving his own personal opinion, or else he was only giving instructions to a specific church at a specific time, not for everyone, not for all time. After all, so goes the argument, verse 12 begins with the personal pronoun: “I” – “I don’t permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” Paul doesn’t permit a woman to teach, but maybe others would permit a woman to teach. Paul doesn’t permit a woman to hold a position of authority in the church, while other might, etc. If Paul is teaching his personal opinion, then maybe women can teach, maybe women can have authority in the church — so goes the argument. The problem with such thinking is that if we can dismiss a teaching of Paul so lightly because he uses the personal pronoun “I” in this instance, wouldn’t that also weaken nearly all of his teachings everywhere found in the New Testament? Wouldn’t it leave virtually no teaching of Paul authoritative and certain? And what about the other authors of the Old and New Testaments? If we consider any teaching from any biblical author merely one’s own personal opinion whenever it use personal pronouns, how much of the Bible would remain as authoritative? No. Paul’s instructions cannot be dismissed because he uses personal language. Paul’s writings are scripture, inspired by the Holy Spirit, in whatever language he uses – just like all inspired scripture. The same problem is found with the argument that Paul was probably only giving instructions to a specific group at a specific time. If this is so, according to the argument, we are free to disregard the instructions because we are part of a different group, in a different place, at a different time. According to this view, maybe that group had specific problems and had to be dealt with by prohibiting women from teaching and holding positions of authority in that church context. But since we aren’t in that church context – the one Paul wrote instructions to – we need not follow the instructions. Instead, we may permit women to teach and hold positions of authority in the church in our time and place today. But the same problem applies to this argument as with the previous argument – if all of the biblical teachings are limited to their own time, their own place, or their own context, then how much is left as instructions for us today? Very little. Every biblical teaching has a context; every instruction had a local application. If God is only speaking his authoritative Word of God to those people, then what is left for us today? Little to nothing. No, we can’t treat the Bible like that. We can’t remove ourselves from its instruction to us because we weren’t the original or immediate audience of the instructions. That doesn’t mean context, time and setting doesn’t count; it just means we can’t dismiss God’s Word to us because it wasn’t specifically written to us. It is written to us, as it has been written to all Christians throughout the ages. Paul’s instructions still stand today, as difficult as it is for our modern and post-modern ages to accept.

Of course, there is more that should be said on this issue, more that really must be said on it; but I’ve tried to outline the basic argument for the church to hold to the biblical teaching that permits only men to teach and hold positions of authority in the church. I’m aware that this runs smack-dab contrary to everything our modern, liberal, feminist society today stands for. Some people claim it’s simply a matter of justice. It’s just not fair that men are permitted to teach and hold positions of authority in the church while women are not. Yes, I understand the argument and in many ways sympathize with it. But we are not dealing with simple justice, we aren’t dealing with mere social equality or human reasoning or a simple social equation. We are dealing with God’s church, God’s government. Is not God free to govern his church in whatever way he chooses? Must God explain to mere man why he does things the way he does things in heaven and on earth? Must God convince modern men and women of his reasons? If so, then who is really God? Who is really Lord? If God must bow to the wishes and will of sinful men and women in respect to the governing and ordering of his church, then it is no longer God in charge but man. No, God is in charge of his church and must ever remain in control, despite objections from some that it isn’t fair. It may not seem fair to us, from our human point of view, but we must learn to trust God to lead and guide. We must not demand that God explain himself, rather we are the ones who must do the explaining. Until we learn how to govern ourselves and organize ourselves on this planet, until we demonstrate competency in that, we should stop complaining to God about this and that, or whatever else happens to be disagreeable today that we don’t understand or like about his instructions to us. The point is, there is no good reason for departing from the historical Christian church understanding of women in ministry, in respect to teaching and holding positions of authority in the church. Yes, there are countless arguments that have emerged in recent years that attempt to overthrow 2000 years of Christian belief and practice concerning this issue. But none of those arguments rise to the level of overthrowing the historical position. The Bible teaches it, the church has confirmed it historically, in all places, at all times, under nearly all circumstances. Let the Apostle Paul have the last word in defense of his own teachings to us: “Did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anybody thinks he is a prophet or spiritually gifted, let him acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. If he ignores this, he himself will be ignored,” 1 Corinthians 14:36-38.

Note: Even though 1 Timothy 2:11-14 emphasizes what women may not do in the church, it would be wrong to conclude that this is God’s only word for Christian women; it is not. The Bible describes and Christian church history confirms that there are vastly more things that women can do in the church than the things they cannot do in the church. I’m aware that in explaining the few restrictions that God places on women in ministry in the church it may falsely appear that God’s Word is mostly negative towards women and ministry; nothing could be further from the truth. Almost everything is permitted. There are many teaching positions available for women in the church. There are many leadership positions available for women in the church. But they must be teaching and leadership positions that conform to the biblical guidelines for women in ministry. A problem only develops when women are not satisfied with the roles that God has assigned them in the church and when they seek to enter into areas that God has not assigned them. For example, today, there are more and more women who are becoming pastors of churches. The pastor position — the lead or senior pastor position — in a church, involves both the teaching of adults males and holding a position of authority over adult males in the church. These are two things explicitly prohibited by the passage in 1 Timothy we just examined. There is no way a woman can fulfill such a pastoral position and be in compliance with God’s Word. Yet there are many other ways in which a gifted and trained woman may serve in the church and be in complete harmony with God’s Word. She can teach in many areas, most areas of the church, but just not teach men in the main meeting of the church. She can hold various positions of leadership within the church, just not in the main leadership council, which would put her in direct violation of the Word of God. She can’t teach or have authority over men in the church, but anything else, she can do and should do. It’s impossible to list all the possibilities for ministry in the church open to women, because there are so many. There are plenty of opportunities for women to serve and minister in the church. There is no reason for women to feel deprived of opportunities – unless of course one must be in a position of teaching men or in a position of authority over men to feel satisfied. But if this is the case, then it’s more a question of whether one’s motives are pure. Unfortunately, it seems that some women, who will not be satisfied until they are in positions of teaching and leading men in the church, appear to be motivated more by a worldly feminist agenda for society than by the kingdom of God. But they need to stop and remember the words of Jesus who said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” The church is not the world, and the world is not the church; the two operate separately.

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