Perhaps I should begin with a confession. Looking back, I regret at least two of those times when I taught on the subject of the submission of women in the church. In both instances, I was preaching in a church where I had never spoken before. And I was speaking in a church where women played a significant (if not dominant) public role. If I were to do it over again I would, in these two situations at least, preach on something else.
This is not to say that I think what I taught was wrong, but it is to say that there is a place and a time for teaching on certain topics. Having made my confession, I believe that this is the place and the time for me to address the question, “Are Women ‘Second Class Citizens’ in the church?” Why now, but not then?
First of all, we are in the middle of a series on the church. The ministry of women in the church plays a vital role in the spiritual health and life of the church. Second, there are a number of people who are relatively new to our church, some of whom have never experienced the way we “do church” as it pertains to the ministry of women. This is my opportunity to explain how and why we practice our ecclesiology (the doctrine of the church). Third, the biblical teaching concerning the ministry of women in the church is strongly opposed by those outside the church (our culture), as well as by all too many who profess to be in the church through faith in Jesus. This is very disturbing and needs to be challenged from the Scriptures. Fourth, in order to reach a culturally and politically correct view of the role of women in the church, one must either ignore or deny clear biblical commands and instructions. Either that or these clear texts must be interpreted in a way that is frightening in its implications. If clear teaching on the ministry of women can be cast aside by mishandling Scripture, what other “unacceptable” doctrines will follow?
I approach this subject with a greater than normal sense of uneasiness. It is not an uneasiness based upon doubt, for I am confident that what I am about to teach is the clear and consistent teaching of God’s Word.2 Neither am I uneasy because I fear that someone will come along who will cast this message aside as sloppy scholarship or as the ranting of a chauvinist (which is what some would say about Paul). I am uneasy that my confidence will come across as arrogance (or, worse yet, actually be arrogance). I am uneasy that speaking so directly will cause someone to turn me off before they have actually considered whether or not what I am saying is true to God’s Word.
It is only fair for me to inform you that a number of my colleagues in ministry (outside our church) will likely strongly disagree with my conclusions. Thus, I am apprehensive because I do not wish to show disrespect or disregard for a number of my good friends and colleagues who strongly disagree with me on this issue. Nevertheless, I believe that what I am about to say needs saying. I only ask that you persevere with me through the next several lessons and consider whether or not this teaching is true to God’s Word. I trust that the Word of God through the ministry of the Spirit of God will speak to you. I don’t expect all to agree, nor do I believe that those who do agree will necessarily apply the Scriptures as I would. But I do hope and pray that these texts of Scripture will cause you to reflect on these important matters, and perhaps encourage you to make whatever adjustments are necessary and appropriate in both doctrine and practice.
I have concluded that the subject of the ministry of women in the church will require several lessons. This first lesson will concentrate on the teaching of the Scriptures regarding women in the church. I will begin by calling attention to biblical practice, in both the Old Testament and the New. I will next turn to the biblical and doctrinal foundations of the teaching of the New Testament regarding women in the church. Then we will focus on the biblical principles and commands regarding women in the church. Finally, in this lesson we will attempt to draw some conclusions and suggest some practical applications.
In the lesson which follows this message, I will attempt to respond to those biblical texts and logical arguments which some find so compelling that they believe they overrule and overturn the commands of the New Testament. The final lesson will be a kind of “Alfred Hitchcock” conclusion to this mini-series within our series on the local church. Instead of calling attention to what women are instructed to give up, I will seek to show how much more they gain when they embrace and experience the teaching of the New Testament regarding the ministry of women in the church. Please bear with me through this most crucial message.
As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says (1 Corinthians 14:33b-34, emphasis mine).
In this New Testament text, Paul indicates that what he is teaching is consistent with the teaching of the Old Testament. It is therefore appropriate that we begin in the Old Testament, not only for chronological purposes, but because the teaching of the New Testament is based upon the teaching of the Old. It is also interesting to observe that when Paul makes this statement regarding the Old Testament, he does not cite any particular text. I think this is because Paul has more than just one incident or text in mind; instead, he refers to the tenor of the Old Testament as a whole. Let’s take a moment to consider some teachings or practices which Paul may have had in mind.
Family leadership (rights of the first-born) was passed down from one generation to another through the males. The Abrahamic Covenant passed from Abraham to Isaac, and from Isaac to Jacob, and then through his sons. In the Book of Numbers, we find provisions made for the rare instances in which there were no males through which the inheritance would pass down.3 But it is clear that such instances are rare, and are the exception, rather than the rule.
When a census was taken, it was of males only. Of course, we should remember that a census was taken for military purposes, and thus only males 20 years old and older were counted.4
Circumcision was a male ritual. It was the male Israelites who identified with the Abrahamic Covenant5 by means of circumcision. (Here is one male “privilege” that is not highly sought by women.)
The laws regarding ceremonial uncleanness after the birth of a child made distinctions on the basis of gender. A woman who bore a male child was declared unclean for seven days, while a woman who bore a female child was declared unclean for fourteen days.6My experience is that girls are cleaner than boys,7 so the distinction must be made on some other basis.
Only the male Israelites were required to appear in Jerusalem three times a year for the three great religious feasts.8 In some instances, at least, this must have meant leaving the family behind in order to attend some of these feasts.
Contrary to popular representations, angels appear only in masculine form. O.K., I admit that this may be only a “for what it’s worth” observation, but it is interesting. In Genesis 6, the “sons of God” (whom I understand to be angels) were having sex with “the daughters of men” and producing children.9 The homosexuals of Sodom wanted to have sex with the angels who came to visit Lot.10The “Angel of the Lord” always appeared as a male as well. It would hardly be appropriate for Jacob to wrestle with a female angel.11And this being was none other than our Lord (who is also represented in masculine terms).
The regulations of the law regarding vows assume the subordination of women to men. A man was bound to his vows. When a single woman made a vow, it could be nullified by her father, and when a woman who had made a vow married, her husband had the right to set aside her vow (at the time he first learned of it, but not later on).12
The laws pertaining to jealousy and divorce also distinguished on the basis of gender. If a man doubted the purity of his wife, there was a process whereby his suspicions could be verified or shown to be false.13Regulations regarding divorce seemed to pertain only to the men, but not to the women. In other words, there were provisions for a man to divorce his wife, but not reciprocal provisions for a woman to divorce her husband.14
Women were not allowed to assume positions of leadership over men. There were no women priests,15 no women kings,16 and only a few women prophets.17 Indeed, it was an indication of divine judgment when women ruled over men:
My people--infants are their oppressors, and women rule over them. O my people, your guides mislead you and they have swallowed up the course of your paths (Isaiah 3:12, ESV).
The bottom line is that with a very few exceptions (and these served to prove a point), women did not lead men in the Old Testament. Instances where women did lead will be dealt with in our next lesson.
The Old Testament evidence is beyond dispute: God distinguished between males and females, on the basis of gender alone. This mountain of evidence sufficiently explains Paul’s concluding words in 1 Corinthians 14:
As in all the churches of the saints, 34the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says (1 Corinthians 14:33b-34, emphasis mine).
Students of the Scriptures have wondered just where in the law Paul’s words can be documented. The most reasonable explanation is that Paul is not speaking of any one text at all, but at the mountain of evidence we find in the Old Testament, some of which I have summarized above.
I believe it is safe to say that in the Old Testament men were the leaders and the women were expected to follow. Some would begrudgingly acknowledge this, but only because they expect this pattern will be overturned in the New Testament. Those with such expectations are destined for disappointment because the New Testament simply continues the pattern of the Old Testament, with a few modifications. Jesus elevated women beyond anything women had experienced in the culture of those days. He was not afraid to contradict His culture and to violate its rules when they were wrong.18 But when Jesus chose the twelve, He selected only men to accompany Him as His disciples and to carry on His ministry when He ascended to the Father. Women did accompany Jesus and His disciples during His earthly ministry, but their ministry was that of service, not leadership:
1 Some time afterward he went on through towns and villages, preaching and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, 2 and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and disabilities: Mary (called Magdalene), from whom seven demons had gone out, 3 and Joanna the wife of Cuza (Herod’s household manager), Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their own resources (Luke 8:1-3).19
Women did minister to Jesus and His disciples, but they did not minister in the same way that His male disciples did. Theirs was a vital ministry, but a different one. They were not serving in a leadership role, nor were they being groomed for future leadership.
Though it may not be of great significance, it is at least a point of interest to note that when we are told the size of a crowd to which our Lord ministered, the numbers were based upon the adult males (“men”) who were present:
Not counting women and children, there were about five thousand men who ate (Matthew 14:21).
Not counting children and women, there were four thousand men who ate (Matthew 15:38).
After the death and resurrection of Jesus (and the birth of the church), the same pattern continues. Judas is replaced as the twelfth disciple by a man. When churches were founded and leaders were appointed, they were led by a group of elders – all men. Even oversight of the care and feeding of widows was given to men – seven of them.20 So we see that the practice of male leadership is consistent, from the Old Testament to the New.
One of the objections to the teaching of the Bible regarding the submission of women in marriage and in the church is the mistaken assumption that submission is incompatible with equality. The argument goes like this, “If women are equal with men, then they cannot be subordinate to men.” If there was ever a case of equality, it is the equality of each of the three members of the Godhead – the Trinity. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are equally God, and yet the Son, though equal with the Father, is in submission to the Father:
Going a little farther, he threw himself down with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if possible, let this cup pass from me! Yet not what I will, but what you will” (Matthew 26:39).
48 The one who rejects me and does not accept my words has a judge; the word I have spoken will judge him at the last day. 49 For I have not spoken from my own authority, but the Father himself who sent me has commanded me what I should say and what I should speak. 50 And I know that his commandment is eternal life. Thus the things I say, I say just as the Father has told me” (John 12:48-52).
Likewise, the Holy Spirit, though fully and equally God, is in submission to the Son:
12 “I have many more things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you. 15 Everything that the Father has is mine; that is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you” (John 16:12-15).
Since the submission of the Spirit and the Son in no way nullifies their equality with the Father in the Trinity, then surely the submission of women in no way nullifies their equality with men in Christ.
All of his life, Jacob had been striving with God and with men. It was not until the final episode of his life that he finally figured out that his blessings came from the sovereign hand of God and not through his manipulations. We see his recognition of, and submission to, the sovereignty of God in the blessing of Joseph’s two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim (by birth order):
8 When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he asked, “Who are these?” 9 Joseph said to his father, “They are the sons God has given me in this place.” His father said, “Bring them to me so I may bless them.” 10 Now Israel’s eyes were failing because of his age; he was not able to see well. So Joseph brought his sons near to him, and his father kissed them and embraced them. 11 Israel said to Joseph, “I never expected to see you again, but now God has allowed me to see your children too.” 12 So Joseph moved them from Israel’s knees and bowed down with his face to the ground. 13 Joseph positioned them; he put Ephraim on his right hand across from Israel’s left hand, and Manasseh on his left hand across from Israel’s right hand. Then Joseph brought them closer to his father. 14 Israel stretched out his right hand and placed it on Ephraim’s head, although he was the younger. Crossing his hands, he put his left hand on Manasseh’s head, for Manasseh was the firstborn. 15 Then he blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked - the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day, 16 the Angel who has protected me from all harm - bless these boys. May my name be named in them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac. May they grow into a multitude on the earth.” 17 When Joseph saw that his father placed his right hand on Ephraim’s head, it displeased him. So he took his father’s hand to move it from Ephraim’s head to Manasseh’s head. 18 Joseph said to his father, “Not so, my father, for this is the firstborn. Put your right hand on his head.” 19 But his father refused and said, “I know, my son, I know. He too will become a nation and he too will become great. In spite of this, his younger brother will be even greater and his descendants will become a multitude of nations.” 20 So he blessed them that day, saying, “By you will Israel bless, saying, ‘May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh.’” So he put Ephraim before Manasseh (Genesis 48:8-20).
By birth order, Manasseh should have come under Jacob’s right hand and should have received the headship of the family. But Jacob blessed these two sons in a way that gave priority to Ephraim, the second born, and this had great symbolic meaning. Jacob chose to bless the younger above the older, just as God had chosen to bless him above his brother Esau. It took Jacob all of his life to surrender to the sovereignty of God, but he finally submits. It is God who raises men up and who puts men down.
Listen to these words of warning God spoke to Nebuchadnezzar through the prophet Daniel:
16 Let his mind be altered from that of a human being, and let an animal’s mind be given to him, and let seven periods of time go by for him. 17 This announcement is by the decree of the sentinels; this decision is by the pronouncement of the holy ones, so that those who are alive may understand that the Most High has authority over human kingdoms, and he bestows them on whomever he wishes. He establishes over them even the lowliest of human beings’” (Daniel 4:16-17).
Nebuchadnezzar had to learn this lesson the hard way, but he came to understand the sovereignty of God through the humbling process God designed for him. Having been truly humbled, his definition of God’s sovereignty is about as good as it gets:
34 But at the end of the appointed time I, Nebuchadnezzar, looked up toward heaven, and my sanity returned to me. I extolled the Most High, and I praised and glorified the one who lives forever. For his authority is an everlasting authority, and his kingdom extends from one generation to the next. 35 All the inhabitants of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as he wishes with the army of heaven and with those who inhabit the earth. No one slaps his hand and says to him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:34-35)22
In other words, God alone is sovereign, and thus He can choose one and reject another, as we find in Romans 9:6-29. He can raise one up to a position of power and put another down. And we would do well not to protest.23 The same can be said of God’s sovereign distribution of spiritual gifts.24
Now let’s go back to some of those apparently arbitrary distinctions based on gender. If God’s sovereignty entitles Him to choose some and to reject others,25 to elevate some and demote others, then does He not also have the right to distinguish between males and females? And is it not our responsibility as those who profess to have surrendered to our sovereign God to accept these divine distinctions? My point is this, even if we were to conclude that the distinctions God has drawn between men and women are arbitrary, our response should be submission to His sovereign will. As Nebuchadnezzar put it, we don’t have the right to slap God’s hand or demand that He justify to us what He has done.
12 Look how you have fallen from the sky, O shining one, son of the dawn! You have been cut down to the ground, O conqueror of the nations! 13 You said to yourself, “I will climb up to the sky. Above the stars of El I will set up my throne. I will rule on the mountain of assembly on the remote slopes of Zaphon. 14 I will climb up to the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High!” (Isaiah 14:12-14)
This text, along with Ezekiel 28:1-20, seems to describe the arrogance of certain earthly kings in terms that also depict the arrogance, rebellion, and downfall of Satan. Satan had a position of prominence as one of God’s angels, but he was not content with being subordinate to God. He wanted more. He wanted to be like God. He wanted to be equal with God. No doubt He would have gladly seized the opportunity to overthrow God, if it were possible (which it is not). And so Satan was cast down for his rebellion.
When we come to the first chapters of the Book of Genesis, we find Satan seeking to entice Eve to embrace and to replicate his rebellion against God’s authority. He persuaded Eve to become discontent with God’s goodness, and with His authority. He made it appear that God was withholding something good from her (and her husband, Adam) – the knowledge of good and evil. Eve took the bait and disobeyed God’s command. More than this, she took the fruit and gave it to her husband, “leading” him to rebel along with her.26 Among other things, Satan persuaded Eve to become the leader in her marriage. And what was so great about the forbidden fruit? It was the “knowledge of good and evil.” She would become “like God,” Satan promised. She would attain forbidden glory. Personally, I believe that God intended to reveal knowledge to Adam and Eve through intimate fellowship and communion with them, rather than through obtaining knowledge by stealing it.
Satan does not give up. He continues to take the same approach in the temptation of our Lord.27 He seeks to induce Jesus to act independently of the Father by satisfying His own needs and desires. He seeks to tempt Jesus to make the Father His servant, rather than to serve the Father. He seeks to persuade the Lord to cast aside His submission to the Father in the pursuit of His own agenda. After all, it worked with Eve. And so, it would seem, Satan continues to employ the same strategy:
1 I wish that you would be patient with me in a little foolishness, but indeed you are being patient with me! 2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy, because I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by his treachery, your minds may be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus different from the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the one you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough! (2 Corinthians 11:1-4, emphasis mine)
This is not to lay the fall and its consequences entirely on Satan and Eve. We must also recognize Adam’s role in this matter. His role is passivity and silence, rather than assuming the leadership, which was his responsibility. Adam was there with Eve while all this was going on,28 and yet he is strangely silent. And when Eve led, Adam followed. This was the basis for his judgment:
17 But to Adam he said, “Because you obeyed your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’ cursed is the ground thanks to you; in painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. 18 It will produce thorns and thistles for you, but you will eat the grain of the field. 19 By the sweat of your brow you will eat food until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:17-19, emphasis mine).
We can hardly brush these Old Testament events aside because when Paul gives specific commands and instructions regarding the ministry of women in the church, he bases his instruction on these very texts:
3 But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ. 4 Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered disgraces his head. 5 But any woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is one and the same thing as having a shaved head. 6 For if a woman will not cover her head, she should cut off her hair. But if it is disgraceful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, she should cover her head. 7 For a man should not have his head covered, since he is the image and glory of God. But the woman is the glory of the man. 8 For man did not come from woman, but woman from man. 9 Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for man. 10 For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels. 11 In any case, in the Lord woman is not independent of man, nor is man independent of woman. 12 For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman. But all things come from God (1 Corinthians 11:3-12).
11 A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first and then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression (1 Timothy 2:11-14).
And so I must ask the question, “Doesn’t the aggressive feminist agenda of our day have the same basic elements?” Shouldn’t this be a source of concern to every Christian? Doesn’t this bear on our understanding of how we are to “do church”? I don’t see how we can cast this matter aside or minimize it as irrelevant.
In Ephesians 3 and elsewhere, Paul indicates that God uses the church to instruct the angelic beings.
10 The purpose of this enlightenment is that through the church the multifaceted wisdom of God should now be disclosed to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly realms (Ephesians 3:10).
For this reason a woman should have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels (1 Corinthians 11:10).
10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who predicted the grace that would come to you searched and investigated carefully. 11 They probed into what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating when he testified beforehand about the sufferings appointed for Christ and his subsequent glory. 12 They were shown that they were serving not themselves but you, in regard to the things now announced to you through those who proclaimed the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven - things angels long to catch a glimpse of (1 Peter 1:10-12).
What we do in the church is being watched by heavenly creatures.29 Since some of the angels seem to have fallen with Satan, the submission of women in the church is not a trivial matter. The conduct of women in the church is not merely a matter of culture; it is a much larger issue than that! Those who would cast off subordination as a divine command are not only setting a bad example, they are following a bad example.
But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:3).
22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord, 23 because the husband is the head of the wife as also Christ is the head of the church - he himself being the savior of the body (Ephesians 5:22-23).
Words can hardly be more clear than this. The principle of male headship is rooted in the relationships within the Trinity. As God the Father is the Head of Christ, so the husband is the head of his wife. As the church is subordinate to Christ, so the wife is to be subordinate to her husband.
Let’s begin by looking at some of the very specific commands pertaining to the ministry of women in the church:
(1) Women are instructed to cover their heads when praying or prophesying.30
(2) Women are to quietly receive instruction, but are forbidden to teach or to lead men in the church.
11 A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first and then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression. 15 But she will be delivered through childbearing, if she continues in faith and love and holiness with self-control (1 Timothy 2:11-15).
(3) Women are commanded to be silent in the church, which includes asking questions (which should be addressed to their own husbands at home).
33 for God is not characterized by disorder but by peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says. 35 If they want to find out about something, they should ask their husbands at home, because it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in church. 36 Did the word of God begin with you, or did it come to you alone? 37 If anyone considers himself a prophet or spiritual person, he should acknowledge that what I write to you is the Lord’s command. 38 If someone does not recognize this, he is not recognized (1 Corinthians 14:33-38).
We should be very clear on the fact that these are commands, not suggestions. And to press this matter even further, these are the commands of our Lord, not just the edicts of a “cranky bachelor” (as some would think of Paul).
The commands of our Lord cannot be easily brushed aside, as our Lord Himself indicated:
18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Finally, the commands of our Lord and His apostles are universal and are not restricted to a particular time or culture.
16 I encourage you, then, be imitators of me. 17 For this reason, I have sent Timothy to you, who is my dear and faithful son in the Lord. He will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:16-17, emphasis mine).
17 Nevertheless, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so must he live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches (1 Corinthians 7:17, emphasis mine).
If anyone intends to quarrel about this, we have no other practice, nor do the churches of God (1 Corinthians 11:16, emphasis mine).
As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says (1 Corinthians 14:33b-34, emphasis mine).
Paul does not teach one practice for one church and another practice for another. The truth is universal and does not vary from place to place or from time to time. We renounce situational ethics, and yet when it comes to church principles and practices, some seek to prove “situational commands.” That is serving church cafeteria style.
In what I have been saying, I do not wish to give the impression that everything we do as a church can be defended from a text of Scripture. When it comes to application, some things are clear (like the prohibition of immorality), but other areas of application may be matters of conviction. The leaders of a church have to draw certain lines, and not everyone may agree with them.
Let me illustrate. Paul teaches that women are to remain silent in the church. We know that this means women cannot teach the men, and that they are not even to ask a question. But what does it mean to be “silent”? Some may conclude that this means absolute silence. Thus, a woman could not even sing with the congregation, or lean over to tell one of her children to be quiet. We have drawn the line elsewhere. We believe that the woman’s silence is directly related to the leadership and authority of men in the church. Thus, we believe that a woman should not “lead in prayer,” “teach the congregation,” or exercise authority when the church is gathered.
Do all the same rules apply in the home, or when a ministry group meets? Some might think so. We don’t allow women to teach men, even in small groups and in the context of the home. We do allow women to share observations and to ask questions in these smaller and less formal settings. Could our “lines” be challenged? No doubt, but wherever we do draw the line, someone is sure to disagree.
To press on, we know that Paul has forbidden women to teach men. But we also know that women can teach their children in the context of the home.31 Can a woman teach a Sunday school class? We believe so, but we draw the line at the junior high level. Women can teach children, and they can teach women,32 but we don’t allow them to teach young men. Where these lines are to be drawn is somewhat arbitrary. But a line must be drawn somewhere, and so we try to make these distinctions wisely, realizing that others may draw them elsewhere.
We know that women are not to lead men because that is to exercise authority over them.33 But is allowing a woman to serve on a committee exercising authority? In some cases I would think so, but not in all cases. And, if I were to be totally honest, I would have to say that some women would pose no problem at all in many situations where other women would be a problem. A truly submissive spirit is what makes the difference.
I have told this story before, but it bears repeating. Years ago my father was leading an adult Sunday school class in the church where he was a leader. (This was before he was convinced that men should assume the leadership roles in the church.) Without thinking, he asked a godly older woman to open the class in prayer. This woman (Mrs. Mell, who is now with the Lord) simply replied quietly, “Byron, I’d rather not if you don’t mind.” She did not explain that she felt it would be wrong for her to “lead” in this way. If she had explained her actions, she would have been teaching men, and so she chose to respond in a way that may have caused some to wonder if she was “out of fellowship” or something similar. Her response was an example of submission.
My point in all of this is that while the commands and principles may be clear and indisputable, the application is sometimes a bit harder to pin down.
Here is what I have been trying to say. Both the Old and New Testaments teach and exemplify male leadership, whether that be leadership over the nation Israel in the Old Testament (prophet, priest, king), or leadership in the church in the New. Put differently, with only rare exceptions, God does not appoint women to lead men. It is not just the Old Testament that teaches male leadership; the New Testament does the same, with some modifications.34 The teaching of the New Testament is consistent regarding male leadership, particularly in the church. Paul’s instructions regarding this matter are commands, not suggestions. Indeed, Paul claims that they are the commands of Christ. We dare not cast them aside as the hang-ups of a chauvinistic bachelor. We are to obey the New Testament instructions concerning the ministry of women in the church as the command of Christ.
I want it to be very clear that I am not teaching on the ministry of women because I believe that the women of Community Bible Chapel need correcting. So far, I have received only comments of affirmation from the women of our church. Their concerns have to do with points of clarification or application. The women in our church rejoice in the role God has given them in the church. I only wish that we men were doing as well at leading as the women are in following.
Furthermore, I likewise rejecttwo reasons that some have suggested as an explanation of the biblical teaching on the role of women:
(1) Women are more gullible than men. I’ve seen a lot of gullible men, and a lot of very wise and discerning women. Some may seek support from Paul’s statement that Eve was thoroughly deceived, while Adam was not.35 While this is true, the reasons may not be related to gender.36 Eve was apparently not present when God gave this prohibition to Adam, and Adam may not have communicated well with her regarding God’s instruction. (Some women will likely think, “So what’s new?”) The larger question in my mind, is “Why did Adam disobey if he was not deceived?” He disobeyed willfully.
(2) Men are better at teaching and leading than women. I see no indication that spiritual gifts are gender related or restricted. Thus, I believe that women as well as men may possess any spiritual gift, including the gifts of teaching, pastoring, and leading. I believe that some women may be better teachers or leaders than men. If the gifting of women were inferior to the gifting of men, it would not be a sacrifice or an act of obedience for them to refrain from assuming leadership roles in the church.
Paul based much of his teaching on the ministry of women on the early events of the Book of Genesis – the order of creation and the events of the fall. When Paul writes to the Corinthians, he likens their situation to the fall:
1 I wish that you would be patient with me in a little foolishness, but indeed you are being patient with me! 2 For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy, because I promised you in marriage to one husband, to present you as a pure virgin to Christ. 3 But I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by his treachery, your minds may be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 4 For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus different from the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit than the one you received, or a different gospel than the one you accepted, you put up with it well enough! (2 Corinthians 11:1-4)
I believe that the arguments employed against a simple and straightforward interpretation of Scripture regarding the ministry of women are weak and without substance. They fly in the face of the mountain of evidence to the contrary. They set aside the commandments of our Lord. They seek to restrict these commands to a distant time and culture, thereby opening the door to the demands of a pagan culture.
That is a very frightening path to take. As I said before, I do not undertake this teaching as an effort to straighten people out here at Community Bible Chapel. So far as I know, most all of you are pretty much in agreement with what I have been saying. But I have to tell you that this is rare and is considered strange to those accustomed to “doing church” in a typical fashion. Our belief and practice are not the going things in evangelical circles. It is not the way to make churches grow, and we’ll likely never be a mega church if we continue to do things as we are. It is likely that some may walk in our doors, realize how different we are, and walk right back out. That is the price for following your beliefs.
If I were to attempt to summarize the source of the animosity toward the biblical teaching on the ministry of women in the church, it would be to attribute it to “the world, the flesh, and the devil.” The world – that is, our culture – is saying to us, “We will have none of that!” The world will not stand for this kind of teaching. Then there is the flesh. Is it not true, my brothers and sisters, that we all want to be number one? Think about the disciples. Jesus is sitting with them at the Last Supper and is saying to Judas in the full hearing of his other disciples, “Yes, Judas, you’re the one who will betray Me,” and yet none of them heard it. Why? Because they had their own conversation going about who was the greatest in the Kingdom. Everybody wants first chair. That’s our flesh, seeking position and prominence and power.
Finally, this is high on the devil’s agenda. He’s been undermining authority because it is the theme of his heart. Look at what Paul says to the Corinthians who are seeking teachers who are wise, but are setting aside the gospel of Jesus Christ and His cross. Paul says, “But I am afraid that just as the serpent deceived Eve by his treachery, your minds may be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” It’s just that simple, just that simple. Trust and obey. Take Jesus at His word, and accept it, and embrace it. But there will always be those who say that this is a much more complex issue. Claiming complexity won’t make these commands disappear. It really is simple, that’s what I’m saying. It really is simple. The issue is…our heart rebels against submission to authority.
Now, it may sound like I’m railing only at the women. Far from it! We men are failing to obey our Lord in taking leadership in our homes and in the church. We love that easy chair, that wide screen TV, sitting back and doing nothing. We are just as culpable. Our flesh is just as disinclined to do what God told us to do as women may be to what God has commanded them to do. We’re all rebels. We need God’s grace working in our lives to cause us to desire and to do God’s Word teaches.
Now, this is stealing on my thunder for the third lesson, but I want to say here that when God withholds something good, or apparently good, it is because He has something better for us. I’m going to give you this thought, knowing that it’s out on the exegetical limb a bit. Nevertheless, here it is. God said to Adam and Eve, “You may not partake of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God forbade them knowledge through eating the forbidden fruit. I would like to suggest to you that it was not that God wanted to keep them ignorant. It’s that God wanted to teach them the truth in intimacy and fellowship with Him. Isn’t that what they did in the garden? They walked with our Lord in the garden. What do you want to do, pick an apple and eat it, or do you want to say to the Living God, “Tell me more”? God wasn’t withholding anything excellent from Adam and Eve. He was withholding something so that they could have something better. And so I want to say to you, if you have gotten a negative feeling from this message, God is not keeping you from something truly good. He is leading you to something really good, and that is to Himself, because more important than anything else is that we know Him, and that we have intimate fellowship and satisfaction in Him.
If you have not trusted in the Lord Jesus as your Savior, I hope you won’t be offended unduly, but that you will understand that God did not come here to enhance our egos. He came to show us our sin and to provide a solution for our sin in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Acknowledge your sin and the perfection of Jesus Christ as the Son of God. Believe that He died for sinners and trust in Him, for the only way we can get to Heaven is through His Son. This, too, is repugnant to sinful, self-sufficient men, but it is the only way God has provided for sinners to be cleansed and for men to gain eternal life. We must submit to God’s provision for salvation if we would enter His heaven.
Father, thank You for these texts and this marvelous truth about your church. Thank You for the way in which You have orchestrated the life and ministry of the local church. And Father, just as we need to urge the women in our body to be submissive, we also want to urge the men in our body to be leaders. Help us Father to be obedient to You, and to follow Your commands to Your glory and for our good. In Jesus name. Amen.
2 Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, now with the Lord, was the head of the Greek department at Dallas Theological Seminary for many years. He was also a very gifted preacher, whom I had the privilege to sit under, and later minister with, at Believers Chapel. He once stated that the teaching of the New Testament regarding the church was as clear as its teaching on salvation. http://www.believerschapeldallas.org/a/Johnson/slj-15_Ecclesiology/7_SLJ_15_32K.m3u
7 My wife and I raised five girls.
17 We’ll address this matter in a subsequent message.
34 I’m thinking here of matters like divorce. When we look in the Old Testament, it would seem that only men had the option of divorcing their wives, and not the reverse. But when we come to the New Testament, we find much more mutuality in these matters in Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7. What is true for the husband is likewise true for the wife.
36 Some might cite Paul’s words in 2 Timothy 3:6, where Paul speaks of false teachers who “captivate weak women who are overwhelmed with sins and led along by various passions.” This is talking about a certain kind of woman, not women in general. Further, whether male or female, people who are burdened with guilt and who are governed by their passions are an easy mark for deceivers.