Friday, February 6, 2015

Rapid Response: Women and Church Leadership

Rapid Response: Women’s Roles

Image from: timedotcom
Rapid Response is intended to be a brief Q and A on a debated topic.  Rapid Response articles reflect my best current understanding on the issue, held hopefully with the spirit of honest truth-seeking. 
This time: 13 questions on women’s roles in God’s church…

1)      What is the Bible’s view of male and female roles?  The Bible teaches that men and women are equal in value, equal in salvation, different in roles.  Among those different roles: God expects men to be the spiritual leaders, in the church and in worship.

2)      If God chooses men to have a leadership role, is God saying that they are better in value, talents, or superiority?  Not at all – God’s leadership choices do not imply superiority judgments.  God chose Moses to lead the Israelites.  God chose the tribe of Levi to be priests.  Jesus chose the apostles.  God gives characteristics for elders and deacons.  None of these leadership choices had anything to do with talents or superiority.  If we don’t understand this principle, it warps how we view this issue and tempts us to desire that biblical teachings be different than they are.

3)      But is it fair for someone to not even have a chance to lead in a position they want to lead in?  God expects us to trust Him enough to serve within the parameters He has given us.  In the Bible, when others wanted to have the leadership position that God had given someone else, God is offended that they did not trust His choice of leadership.  Examples: Korah in Numbers 16:1-3…was it unfair that God chose Moses and not Korah?  2 Chronicles 26:16-20…was it unfair that King Uzziah wanted to offer sacrifices but wasn’t born a Levite?  Is it fair that I’m not qualified to be an elder?  We are supposed to trust God’s choice of leadership and serve within our own opportunities.

4)      What are some major passages that teach male spiritual leadership in church and worship? 
·         1 Timothy 2:11-12 – “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.”   
·         1 Corinthians 14:34-35 – “The women should keep silent in the churches.  For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.  If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home.  For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” 
·         1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 teach that elders and deacons are to be the “husband” of one wife.

5)      Couldn’t these passages just be cultural?  There are certainly some cultural applications in the Bible.  But in 1 Timothy 2, for example, male leadership is founded not in culture, but in creation: “For Adam was formed first, then Eve;” (v. 13).  Culture changes, creation doesn’t.  Male leadership is based in honoring God’s creation, not culture’s shifting opinions.

6)      But I heard someone say that 1 Corinthians 14 is just about wives interrupting their husbands in the services?  The major problem with this theory is that Paul’s wording suggests a general Christian principle, not just for certain women in a certain place.  He gives the very broad explanation in 1 Cor. 14:35: “For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”  “A woman,” not “the wives,” or “the women causing problems.”  Any woman speaking in church would be shameful by dishonoring God’s plan.  And in verse 34 he says the women were to keep silent in the “churches.”  This was a teaching for every church, not just trying to stop a strange problem at one rebellious location.  The wording gives a broad Christian principle for all churches, not a unique situation.
Another problem with this theory is that the context simply doesn’t mention the invented scenario. 
7)      But would being “silent” in 1 Corinthians 14 mean women can’t even sing or say ‘amen’?  No.  In the context of 1 Corinthians 14, “silent” means silent in regards to public speaking and praying, as seen in verses 28 and 30.  Women can sing, women can say amen, but God expects them to be silent in the area of leading prayers and speaking God’s word in mixed worship assemblies.

8)      What if a man gives a woman the authority to speak in church – would she still be “exercising authority over a man?”  I’m sure God could have given us this procedure if He wanted it.  God didn’t say “as long as men give them the authority women can speak.”  Only God gives the authority to speak in worship, and 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 both say women are not to speak in worship.  God expects men to lead mixed assemblies before His throne in worship, not ‘pass their authority’ to those whom God has asked to be listeners rather than speakers. 

9)      Doesn’t 1 Corinthians 11:4-5 mean that women were leading in public worship, since they were praying or prophesying in public?  This passage says that women prayed and prophesied, but it does not say they prayed and prophesied in church assemblies, or that they led men in worship.  There are certainly prophetesses in the Bible (such as Philip’s daughters in Acts 21:8-9), but being a prophetess simply meant God spoke through a woman, it didn’t mean she would violate God’s plan for male spiritual leadership. 
This question reflects an incomplete understanding of prayer and prophecy in the Bible, which could be done publicly without any sort of worship leadership element.  For example, praying aloud in public was common, when others would hear you but not be worshiping along with you (Matt. 6:5).  Thus, we see the prophetess Anna worshiping and giving thanks to God publicly in the temple in Luke 2:36-38, without any worship leadership role suggested.  We also see Hezekiah’s men go ask the prophetess Huldah for the word of the Lord in 2 Chronicles 34:21-24.  She gives them a prophecy (message) from God, but there is no worship leading here.  This is similar to a man asking a mature Christian woman in the church lobby for her thoughts on a biblical passage.  Her answer would be explaining the word of God to him, but not leading him in worship.  Men and women may share thoughts on Scripture with the intent of study and not worship (such as many of our adult Bible class discussions, where the only one taking a church “authoritative role” is the class teacher).
 So women in Corinth could certainly pray or prophesy in public settings without violating the clear teaching to remain silent in combined worship settings (only 3 chapters later!) in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.  There is no doubt that 1 Corinthians 14 is about the worship assembly; 1 Corinthians 11 could be referring to several other contexts for prayer and prophecy without forcing it to violate 1 Corinthians 14.

10)   Doesn’t Galatians 3:28-29 (“there is no male and female” in Christ) imply that men and women are equal before God?  Yes, it does.  But equal before God doesn’t mean there are no longer different roles within God’s church.  There are still elders with certain qualifications who have a unique role of leadership.  Men also have a unique leadership role.  Scripture teaches that men and women are equal in Christ, but that doesn’t mean that there are no longer different roles.

11)   What if a woman has a special talent for preaching?  Shouldn’t she be allowed to preach?  Talents alone do not define what God wants.  What if – even though I don’t meet God’s qualifications for being an elder/shepherd – I decide I have a talent for shepherding souls, and so therefore the church should let me be an elder/ shepherd?  I hope someone would tell me: I’m sorry, but we’re going to trust God’s choice of leadership as outlined in the Bible, and we pray you will have the faith and humility to serve within the parameters God has called you to serve that are consistent with inspired Scripture.
God’s choice of leadership has nothing to do with talents.  There are many women who could ‘preach better’ than us men.  God never said “I want the most talented ones to lead in worship.”  There are contexts where women should use their teaching talents, but violating God’s plan by leading men in worship would be a dishonor to the God who gave those talents to be used in their proper contexts.

12)   If God gives men the responsibility to serve in these roles, does that mean there's no place for women to serve in Christ's church?  If God has given women special privileges when it comes to bringing children into the world, does that mean there's no place for men to serve in the family?  Of course not.  Different places in life give us different roles.  And if we have led people to believe that leading in worship is the only way to serve God (or even the best way), then we have failed miserably.  I know in our church family, our ministries would fall apart quickly if our ladies weren't actively serving God in hundreds of ways.  And every church I know of has the strong voice of ladies in its midst: from children's Bible school teachers to innumerable cards and words of encouragement; from adult Bible class discussions to the wives who are a constant part of every elder's life.  Let's not pretend that our ladies don't have a crucial place in congregations that follow the Bible's teaching on male spiritual leadership.  For the body of Christ to function as God wants, every part of the body must be doing its job (1 Cor. 12:12-27).

13)  But won’t this teaching upset people and keep them from obeying the gospel?  Sadly, every culture will have ways that it will be offended by the gospel and believe that its own wisdom is better than God’s.  This issue is one of our culture’s pride spots, and many of us have been trained by our culture to think that it is morally wrong for men to be given a responsibility that women are not given.  My prayer is that we will have the faith to trust God - and encourage others to do the same - even when our culture doesn’t like His choices.  We can affirm the equal value and talents of men and women while also affirming God’s choice of male spiritual leadership. 

I have personally been disappointed in the logic from those attempting to re-define the Bible passages that discuss this issue.  It seems to me that if we can explain these verses away – verses which seem about as clear as they could possibly be – what passages can be allowed to actually mean what they say?  I worry we are letting popular worldly wisdom tell us what God should and shouldn’t do. 

Keep praying about it and thinking about it, and I will too.

Added: for a deeper, more scholarly discussion of this issue, here's a link to a writing from Dr. Everett Ferguson, one of the leading scholars of Early Christianity:

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