THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH

 

A Look at God’s Word by

Gary Ray Branscome

 

    Women generally contribute a great deal to a congregation. While every woman may not be personally involved, those who are involved often labor selflessly in doing the many tasks that need to be done. Among other things, they are often active in prayer, music, providing meals for the sick, cleaning, cooking and teaching the children. All of those tasks are important, and will not be overlooked by God. However, God’s Word makes it clear that He wants men to shoulder the responsibility for leading the congregation, and teaching the Word of God (1Timothy 2:11-12, 1Corinthians 14:34-35).

    Throughout history, there has been no problem with this arrangement. However, those influenced by the modern “feminist” movement -- which assumes that humans have evolved from lower animals, and whose real aim is free sex not what is best for women -- would like to overturn what the Bible says on this issue. Furthermore, there are many in the church who would like to go along with them, often deciding the issue on the basis of  feel-good” sentiment, rather than God’s Word. However, as Bible believing Christians, we have a responsibility to teach and practice exactly what the Bible says on this issue.

 

    Before looking at what the Bible says we need to understand that placing someone in a position leadership or authority in the congregation is not a way of rewarding them, honoring them, or exalting them. On the contrary, that is the world’s way of thinking, not God’s way (Luke 22:24-25). Those invested with a position of leadership have been called to serve the congregation by shouldering the responsibility of teaching and leading the congregation (James 3:1). Furthermore, God may want men to shoulder that responsibility because when men lead the congregation, they are far more likely to exercise spiritual leadership in the home. And, as many women well know, men need all the encouragement they can get, when it comes to spiritual leadership in the home.

 

    1Timothy 2:12-15  But I do not allow a woman to teach, or to have authority over a man, but to remain silent. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived, but the woman being deceived led in transgression. Nevertheless she will be saved, and find fulfillment in child-rearing, if they continue in faith and love and holiness with sobriety.

 

      This passage plainly tells us that Paul did not allow women to teach or hold authority over men in the congregation. Furthermore, it is important to notice that the reason Paul gives has nothing to do with culture. On the contrary, the reason given has to do with the role that God had in mind for women in the beginning. Moreover, there is little difference between ignoring what God says in these passages, and ignoring what He said about the forbidden fruit. In either case it is rebellion against God (Isaiah 8:20).

 

    1Corinthians 14:34-37  Let your women keep silent in the churches: for they are not permitted to speak; but are commanded to be under obedience, as the law also says. And if they desire to learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church… If any man thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things I write to you are the commandments of the Lord.

 

       Even though we generally apply this passage in a spirit of Christian love, rather than in a legalistic way, it clearly excludes women from the ministry. Furthermore, the words that speak of women asking their “husbands at home” are telling men that they need to have the answers. And, having the answers involves shouldering the responsibility of spiritual leadership in the home.

 

1Corinthians 11:10  For this reason the woman ought to have authority over her head because of the angels.

 

          While this passage is not explained, it implies that a reversal of the roles that God intended for men and women is a stumbling block to the angels. And, if that is the case, then ignoring what the Bible says about the role of women in the church is a far more serious sin than we realize.

   

PASSAGES USED TO JUSTIFY REBELLION

 

           Although the passages just cited are perfectly clear, those who have their heart set on rebellion try to find passages that they can interpret to teach the opposite. However, no interpretation they come up with will ever change what these passages say, because no valid interpretation will ever contradict what the Bible explicitly says (Isaiah 8:20). Nevertheless, let us take a brief look at a couple of passages.

 

Acts 2:17  And it will come to pass in the last days, says God, I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh: and your sons and daughters will prophesy.

 

        Those who reject what the Bible says about women preaching and teaching in the church, interpret the word “prophesy” in this passage to mean “preach”. In contrast, the Bible defines the word “prophesy” as testifying of Christ, when it says, “the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Revelation 19:10). Those who interpret the word “prophesy” (in this passage) to agree with 1Timothy 2:12 or 1Corinthians 14:34 are interpreting it in the light of what Scripture says elsewhere. However, the Bible makes it clear that those who interpret the word “prophesy” to contradict those passages, are rebelling against God and have a spirit of error (1John 4:6, Psalm 107:11).

 

Romans 16:1  I commend unto you Phebe our sister, who is a servant of the church that is at Cenchrea:

 

       The only reason this passage is cited is because the word translated “servant” is the Greek word “deacon”. However, that Greek word means servant, and it is used in reference to Paul (Colossians 1:25), Timothy (1Thessalonians 3:2), and Christ (Luke 22:27) none of whom ever held the office of deacon in a congregation. Here again, we interpret the passage to agree with 1Timothy 2:12 and 1Corinthians 14:34, not to contradict them.

 

THE ROLE OF WOMEN

 

                Although women are not to teach men or hold authority over them in the congregation, women are free to teach other women. In fact, the Bible urges the older women to teach the younger (Titus 2:4-5). Likewise, women are free to testify of Christ to those outside the faith. Furthermore, because the priesthood of believers extends to both men and women alike, in a situation where there is no Christian congregation, or Christian men to start one, women are free to make converts, baptize them, and gather them together for worship. However, they should not usurp the role of a pastor. If men are among the converts, then a woman might instruct them privately until one (who meets the Biblical requirements) is sufficiently grounded in God’s Word to lead the worship. Of course, in such a situation, sermons would not be deep theological addresses, but would instead consist of reading God’s Word, talking about what it says, and testifying of Christ, while urging the congregation to shun evil and show Christian love and charity to all.

               

    Almost a century ago an English parlor maid named Gladys Aylward traveled to a remote area of China. There, together with a 73 year old missionary widow, Jeannie Lawson, they opened an inn and entertained their guests with stories from the Bible. In time, they not only made converts, but also took in a number of orphans, whom they brought up in the faith. The point I want to make is that, by starting an inn, or taking in orphans, they did nothing contrary to what is taught in Scripture. If they had tried to usurp the role of pastor, or if Gladys had preached in congregations after she returned to England, that would have been wrong. However, there was nothing wrong with starting an inn. And, what they did goes to show how many things are actually open to women who think creatively.  

 

CONCLUSION

 

           As I pointed out earlier, women contribute a great deal to the life of a congregation. Moreover, they usually do not need to be asked. They just see that something needs to be done, and jump in and do it. However, men are not that way. Men think in a much more military way, and do better when their responsibilities are clearly defined. In fact, if a certain responsibility has not been assigned to them, they are hesitant to do it, and may feel that they are butting into someone else’s business. That may be another reason why God has assigned men the role of leadership in the congregation.