Women As Leaders Of The Church?

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.

One, 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.

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.

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 episkopÄ“ 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.

Published in: on September 30, 2011 at 7:40 pm  Comments (9)  
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9 Comments

  1. An interesting thing to note is the character and quality of those congregations currently being pastored by women. I’ve been to a couple. Men in their congregations were few and far between.

    While I am comfortable with seeing women in many areas of leadership, and in fact believe that women can and should be deaconesses–that there is a long-standing history of women as deaconesses, and hints of this in certain scriptural passages–godly men should ultimately be held up as the authorities in the church because that is their God-given role and place in the scheme of things. If we take away their role, then what task will they perform instead? I get the impression that the men don’t know, and when the women are perceived to be in control, the men feel awkward, and go elsewhere.

    I think the lesson learned is that God wants all of us; both men and women in the church, and he gave men a manly role of leadership, a role men are attracted to and desire to fulfill. If there is a man in charge who is godly and worthy of being looked up to by other men, they will come, and modeling what they see, they will also bring their wives and children, and seek to carry over the principles of leadership taught in the church to their own families.

    Women have a God-given role of nurturing and support. The older women are to teach the younger women how to be godly wives and mothers, and how to live a life pleasing to God. And we are to support our husbands in their leadership roles. This doesn’t make us inferior; it makes us different, and it lets us focus, as women, on the area of relationships, which is what interests most of us anyway!

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  2. Thank you, Becky and Krysti, for your faithfulness to God’s Word, and desire for the Church to be faithful as well.

    Order is a necessary beautiful thing.

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  3. It’s difficult enough for a man to go to another man for council. It’s like asking for directions. It would be all the harder going to a woman pastor for advice.

    A funny sideline: a godly, conservative woman in our neighborhood bible study was asked to preach in a church she once attended. She said she had too, because she wanted the congregation to hear the gospel from that pulpit at least once before she left.

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  4. Wow!

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  5. Yesterday I typed out a very long thought-out Biblical response (unlike my reactionary initial response from early in the day- please forgive me for that)… and something went wrong with my browser and it was gone.

    Surprisingly, I felt a great peace about that and have no desire to retype it. I suspect my writing it in the first place was the Spirit working in me, and reassuring me that I’m not the worldly “feminist” I was feeling accused of being. It was just for me to work out my own thoughts and it didn’t need to be shared to stir up yours. And once again I am appreciative of this place on the net where I feel free to share my thoughts that don’t agree with yours, and know that you always respond with more thought and respect than my posts may deserve. Thank you, Becky.

    Since it probably seems odd that it is a man taking up the “feminist” position in this discussion, what I will do is explain why I’ve felt so reactive over this: I have known too many saintly women who were clearly called by God and filled with His Spirit to lead in churches, to believe for a second that God did not want them doing what they were doing.

    If anyone, Man or Woman, live in such a way to make this impression on me… my respect for that person is an extension of my respect for God and His authority. Anyone who fills that role as it was intended to be filled is not an authority over men. They are the servant of all and of God above all. A shepherd isn’t a king, but a servant caretaker that nurtures and protects a flock. I do not know a Christian man who would be too proud to let a godly woman be his shepherd. She isn’t the authority- God is- and she is His servant.

    I don’t want to make this post too long, so in conclusion I just want to restate that I appreciate how boldly Becky speaks out what she believes to be true according the True Word, against what she sees going on in the world and the church… yet takes great care in addressing everyone with respect. Seems an awful lot like a prophet and preacher to me. Thanks again!

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  6. Outstanding post, Becky. My particular denomination believes this to be the scriptural truth, as well. We have had a few churches that engage in the debate of the role of, and approval for, deaconesses, and I appreciate that the dialogue is always civil and always with the intent of remaining scripturally accurate.

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  7. […] subject ( “Feminism In The Church”, “Feminism In The Church, Continued”, “Women As Leaders Of The Church?”) are remarkably backed up by the Old Testament when God established the system of worship for the […]

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  8. Hi, Patrick, I didn’t mean for so much time to pass before responding. You said:

    And once again I am appreciative of this place on the net where I feel free to share my thoughts that don’t agree with yours, and know that you always respond with more thought and respect than my posts may deserve.

    I really appreciate your participation in the discussion. I think when we hear a different perspective it helps us one way or another. Either we take time to question our own position or we deepen our commitment to what we believe. I tend to believe it’s a good thing when people think things out. 😀

    Regarding you as a man taking the stand for women in the church, I wasn’t particularly surprised. It seems to me that most men only feel comfortable talking about this issue when they take the position you hold. If they read Scripture as I do, fewer speak out. I understand why.

    I felt quite aware that I was voicing an opinion that would contradict a number of my visitors, and I honestly don’t want to offend any. Men who are already being accused of all kinds of heinous things as a group hardly need one more thing for feminists to point the finger at.

    In my research for this series, most of the blog posts I read were by women. Maybe that has more impact because a number of us take Scripture at face value on this subject and aren’t threatened by it.

    I personally wouldn’t be able to resolve serving God in a way He told me was not for me. At the same time, I feel He’s given women lots of opportunities for ministry.

    The thing I don’t think I really brought out about feminism, because I have no way of measuring whether or not it applies to feminists in the church, is that the movement in general, while advocating for more power for women, pushes women to act more like men. How ironic! Woman power — but to achieve it we need to be like Type A men.

    Sorry to get back into the subject. I really mostly wanted to thank you for this note, Patrick, and for your kind words about this blog. I appreciate interacting with you on this and any other topics.

    Becky

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    • Becky! I found the Bible passage I mentioned remembering:

      Romans 16:1, which reads,

      “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae.” (and continues on…)

      Anyway, for whatever it’s worth,

      Krysti

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