The role of women in the local church is a hot topic today. There are many traditions concerning women and the local church.
Many churches have women elders and even senior pastors. Are those traditions consistent with God’s Word?
Many churches teach that women should never teach men the Bible or theology, whether in church or in Bible college, seminary, home Bible studies, conferences, or any context. Is that tradition Biblical?
I realize that in this blog I may step on toes on both sides of this debate. I use this example since it well illustrates the fact that our traditions can easily nullify God’s Word. Whether you agree with my views on the role of women in the church is somewhat beside the point. The point is that we all need to evaluate our traditions in light of Scripture, not in light of what the majority of Evangelicals believe and teach, and not in light of what our church or denomination teaches.
Scripture says that only older men are able to be the leaders of the local church (1 Tim 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5; Jas 5:14; 1 Pet 5:5). The word presbuteros means an elder man. It occurs 66 times in the NT. A younger man was called neaniskos.
The Bible does not specify a minimum age for an elder. However, in the first century a man was considered a young man until around age 35 to 40. But in any case, an elder had to be a male. Only a man could be “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6).
Paul said, “I do not permit a woman to…have authority over a man” (1 Tim 2:12). Paul is speaking there of the local church. This confirms that women are not to be elders, since older men are the authorities in the local church.
When a church has women elders, it is nullifying the Word of God. Though the intentions are surely good, it is wrong to reject the commandments of God for our tradition.
It is not a violation of Scripture for a woman to be in authority over men as a mayor, governor, President, or Prime Minister. A woman can be over men as a manager at Walmart or any store or company.
Even in Christian ministries, a woman can have authority over a man. In my opinion, the Bible does not forbid a woman from being the president of a Bible college or seminary or the head of a nonprofit. Women can supervise men in any context except the leadership of the local church.i
Concerning speaking in the meeting of the local church, women are to “learn in silence with all submission” (1 Tim 2:11). In case we missed that, Paul repeated that again in the very next verse, 1 Tim 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence.” Paul also said the same thing in 1 Cor 14:34, “Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says. And if they want to learn something, let them ask their own husbands at home; for it is shameful for women to speak in church.”ii
Women are not to speak in the meeting of the local church. In the first century, local churches met once a week, normally on Sunday evening (Acts 20:7-12). At that meeting they had a meal together and celebrated the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor 11:17-34). Most churches today do not consider the Lord’s Supper to be the meeting of their church. Instead, for most churches, the meeting of the church is the Sunday morning sermon during the worship service.iii But whatever is the meeting of the local church, women are not to speak there, but are to learn in silence.
When a church has a woman as senior pastor, it is rejecting the Word of God, no matter how noble the intention.
I believe that many conservative Evangelicals go too far in the opposite direction and create a tradition that is also contrary to God’s Word. The Scriptures never say that a woman can never teach a man the Bible in any context. The restriction Paul gave was only for one specific context, the meeting of the local church. We know, for example, that both Aquila and his wife Priscilla taught Apollos “the way of God more accurately” (Acts 18:26). Paul said that two women, Euodia and Syntyche, “labored with me in the gospel” and he called them his “fellow workers” (Phil 4:2-3). Paul refers to a woman named Phoebe as “a servant of the church in Cenchrea” (Rom 16:1). She evidently was the person who carried the letter from Paul to the house churches and tenement churches in Rome. See this article by Allan Chapple from the Tyndale Bulletin that suggests that Phoebe may even have had the responsibility to read (and interpret) the letter to the Romans at a special “meeting of the whole community [of many individual churches].”
I see no Biblical command that prohibits women from teaching men in home Bible studies, discipleship groups, or family devotions. Since conferences are not local churches, women can speak at conferences too. Bible colleges and seminaries are not churches. Therefore, women professors are not a violation of God’s Word.
When I was at DTS, Elisabeth Elliot Gren spoke in chapel. Dr. Walvoord introduced her and said that she spoke under his authority. I saw no need for that disclaimer. DTS is not a church. When she got up to speak, several hundred male students got up and walked out. I was not one of them. I thought that was rude and unbiblical.
The Bible does not say why God wants men to be the leaders and preachers in the local church, other than that Adam was created first and Eve was deceived. In any case, male leadership and preachers in the local church are God’s will.
Is your tradition regarding the role of women in the church contrary to God’s Word? It is possible to err by being too restrictive or by being unrestrictive. We should do what God commands. No more and no less. Whenever our traditions conflict with God’s commands, it is our traditions which should be nullified, not God’s Word.
i Paul was not thinking of the modern local church where there might be hundreds or thousands of people and lots of ministries and meetings. He was not forbidding a woman from having authority over a man in a church’s soup kitchen, for example. A woman administrator in a local church might well supervise male volunteers or staff.
ii I realize that some interpret both 1 Cor 14:34 and 1 Tim 2:11-12 by saying that these were just Paul’s practices, not God’s will. Others say that those were God’s will for that culture, but since we live in a different culture, then those restrictions no longer apply. I, however, find the words of those two texts to be crystal clear and timeless.
iii If the entire worship service is considered the meeting of the local church, then I think it is a violation of Scripture for a woman to give a testimony, make an announcement, lead in prayer, or give a brief word before a song. However, I realize that for most conservative churches it is only the sermon itself that is subject to the commands of 1 Cor 14:34 and 1 Tim 2:11-12.