When I originally posted this article three years ago, it wasn’t one of the more popular blogs I’d written. I don’t suppose that will have changed, though I do think this is an important topic and this content is well worth bringing to the forefront again.
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It seems obvious to me that the culture and not Scripture has influenced many people to believe that women too can be pastors and elders (would they be call eldresses? ;-) ) For over 1900 years, it seems, the Church understood the role of pastor to be reserved for men, but now in these last few decades we have scholars who say that actually all those earlier students of God’s Word, for all those centuries, had it wrong.
Why would we think that God would not correct this error long ago, if in fact it was error? Why, in the first place, did the Holy Spirit lead Paul to write something that for centuries the Church would misunderstand?
In reality, I think the Church for all those centuries understood exactly what God intended—that the role of pastor was reserved for men. Here is Paul’s clear instruction to Timothy:
A woman must quietly receive instruction with entire submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression. (1 Tim 2:11-14)
Paul not only gives the principles the Church is to follow, he gives reasons for it. A woman’s role, in part, is established because of the order of creation. It is also set because Eve was deceived, not Adam.
There are several other issues involved too.
First, Scripture gives clear instructions about the relationship a wife is to have with her husband. He is the head who is to love her sacrificially. She is to give him her respect and submission.
That’s not subservience. Her submission is the same as my putting myself under the authority of a principal when I was a teacher. I may have disagreed with how a certain principal wanted to do things, but in the end, the teacher needs to give way to the principal, though in the best working situations, the two strive to reach a place that satisfies the concerns of both.
That’s the way any organization must work. Somebody has to be in the hot seat where the buck stops. In a family, that “somebody” is the husband—the one tasked to love and selflessly serve his wife.
Each local church also has a leadership structure, with a pastor and elders taking the responsibility.
So what would happen if a woman was pastor—the head or leader of … her husband, a member of her church, who was to be her head? At one point or the other, the leadership structure God designed for the family or for the church would break down.
There’s another issue. The pastor or episkopē and the elders were given the role of “shepherding the flock.” Luke mentioned this in Acts when he recorded Paul’s farewell admonition to the elders in Miletus:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. (Acts 20:28 – emphasis mine)
Peter goes into more depth in his first letter:
Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. (1 Peter 5:1-4 – emphases mine)
Is it coincidental that Peter refers to the pastor and elders as shepherds and Christ as the Chief Shepherd? Clearly not. He is likening their role, in miniature, to Christ’s role—just as Paul did when he addressed husbands and said they were to love their wives like Christ loved the Church. In other words, as the husband is to serve as a type of Christ by his sacrificial love, so the pastor is to serve as a type of Christ in his shepherding role.
We should not minimize this function of the pastor—as one who gives us a glimpse of the head/body relationship we enjoy with Christ.
Apart from specialty cases in which God may indeed call and equip a woman for a time, even as He allowed David to eat the sanctified bread reserved for priests, the teaching of Scripture gives the offices of pastor and elders to men. They are to be humble servants and caretakers of their flock, and women, as fellow servants and fellow heirs, are to join in ministry, just not in the lead role.