Ask the Pastor: Can women serve as pastors and elders in the church?
These questions never are easy. Yet, the Scripture is clear on the answer to this question.
**Note the goal of this article is not to unpack every question related to this subject. Rather, to answer the question stated in the title. This is a broad but necessary topic to talk about.
Don’t forget to submit your Bible questions to us – firstname.lastname@example.org or in the “Question Box” outside the sanctuary.)
One question submitted last week (and asked several times in the last few months):
Can women serve as pastors and elders in the church?
This is an honest question. Like most questions asked by our congregation, these are hot-button and relevant issues. Churches have separated over this question.
But, let’s remember, too: This isn’t the most incendiary teaching of Christianity. That comes in this truth from 1 Cor. 1:23-24:
but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
The cross is either a starting block or a stumbling block, depending if you receive it or refuse it. From this flows all the wisdom needed for life and godliness.
1 Timothy 2:11-15 (KJV)
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. 12 But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. 13 For Adam was first formed, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression. 15 Notwithstanding she shall be saved in childbearing, if they continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety.
TRUSTED OUTSIDE RESOURCES
*https://carm.org/should-women-be-pastors-and-elders – Good overview to the topic.
*https://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA127/Can-women-serve-as-pastors-and-elders-in-the-church – Dr. John MacArthur’s teaching
*http://www.sbclife.net/articles/1998/05/sla5 – older but in-depth SBC article\
Why is the issue of gender so important to discuss in Bible-believing churches today? This is a watershed issue in our churches and will ultimately distinguish between those who will try to accommodate the church so it is fit for the culture that surrounds it, and those who will shape their lives and churches after Scripture.
Christianity has perhaps been the biggest force for promoting the value of and respect for women. Yet until very recently, exclusively male leadership was the norm within the church.
How can these two realities coexist?
NOT SECOND-CLASS CITIZENS!
Pastor Doug Richey of Pisgah Baptist Church in our association recently posted this that is worth adding to this post:
1. Women were created by the all wise and glorious Creator and were declared, with their male counterpart, to be ‘very good.’
2. Women were created by God to be a blessing.
3. Women, being created in the image of God, along with their male counterpart, have inherent value, dignity and purpose.
4. Women are to be honored, respected, and protected/prized as human society’s treasured population.
5. Women are blessed to play a most significant role in motherhood.
6. Jesus, in contradiction to 1st Century culture, valued women and declared that His sacrificial death would save both men and women from their sin and brokenness.
7. Human society wouldn’t be what it is without the beauty, compassion, service, love and stability that women bring to our human experience.
That said, no woman should be objectified, oppressed, victimized, undervalued or neglected. They should have the support of every man that would think himself a gentleman.
Ladies, carry yourself with a confident humility, knowing that you are loved by the God of heaven and earth!
If I could summarize the meaning, a woman isn’t to be a pastor. No, in my understanding of the Bible, women aren’t permitted to be pastors. A woman isn’t to be an elder. A woman isn’t to occupy an authoritative teaching position over men in the church. This, very simply stated, is what the text is saying in 1 Tim. 2:11-15 above.
Biblically, this comes from 1 Timothy 2-3. There Paul contended on the basis of an order of creation that women shouldn’t be ordained as elders. To be more specific, Paul contended in contradiction of women’s ordination on the foundation that Adam was created before Eve, and that Eve was deceived (1 Tim. 2:12-14).
I don’t believe Paul was proposing that women aren’t able to learn like or as much as men (so not true!). Instead, it seems the target was one of correctness before the Lord. In Genesis 1-3, God instituted an order in creation. As such, the church was to esteem and follow that set order. Because such decrees of God are set firmly in place, the teaching of Scripture that women should not be ordained also doesn’t change.
Other biblical passages of note:
*1 Timothy 3:1-2, 4 & 12: Repeated emphasis on the following the design of Christian spiritual leadership in the home given to male leaders
*Titus 1:5-6: He has to demonstrate godly, manly spiritual leadership in his home. That’s the qualification
*1 Cor. 11:5-10: In charismatic Corinth, women were direct channels for God the Holy Spirit. Yet, even when they were direct pipes of the Holy Spirit, they were to do so in such a manner that they showed their pleasant and eager approval of male-female gender relationships as they are defined in Genesis 1-3 and in the Law of God.
Our statement of faith—the Baptist Faith & Message 2000—states the following:
While both men and women are gifted for service in the church, the office of pastor is limited to men as qualified by Scripture.
CONTEXT FOR GENDER ROLES
In the church, everything is to be done for edification (1 Corinthians 14:26). Roman feminism was popular at the time Paul wrote this letter; women in the church were to be distinct from their cultural counterparts. Godly women were to abstain from the extravagant dress and self-centeredness accepted among mainstream Roman women. As with all God’s children, they were to demonstrate modesty in dress and modesty in spirit. Paul wants nothing to distract from the gospel or the ministry of the church. We are to use our whole lives for the good of others – even the way we dress.
The most widely overlooked teaching of this passage is the extraordinary fact that women were welcome in the church (1 Timothy 2:11 – see above). This was not the case in Jewish synagogues and most centers of Roman worship. In the first century, the shocking part of this passage would have been that women were to learn at all – especially under the same teaching as men.
Clearly, the exhortation is not to silence. In other letters, Paul gives instructions on how women were to prophecy and pray. The call to learn in quietness applies to all: it does not mean absolute silence, but rather the demonstration of a teachable heart.
All Christians are to seek quiet lives of godliness. We tend to think of quietness as denigrating, but Christians don’t believe submission is akin to inferiority. Believers are called to submit to various orders God established in creation: children to parents, wife to husband, youth to elders, citizens to the governing authorities, and all men to God.
The idea that equality must be sameness comes from culture, not Scripture, and it is not true. God created different roles that, when honored, fully honor Him.
ROLES IN THE CONGREGATION
Women are precluded from teaching at public gatherings or having authority over men. Women in the congregation had been deceived into believing in the Roman feminism previously discussed and were convincing others of its value, contrary to the teaching and practice of the church.
We know from other epistles that older women were to teach younger women and be an active part of the church community (Titus 2:3-5), but pastor-elders was not a role intended for women.
REASONS FOR THE GENDER ROLES
Churches often set the instruction in these verses aside either because it is considered wrong or because it is believed to be specific to the Ephesians. But Paul’s rationale here is consistent with the rest of Scripture.
First, Adam was created first (1 Timothy 2:13) and his authority was in place before the fall. God’s creation of Adam prior to Eve is significant. Reading the whole of Scripture we not only find what God has done, but why He has done it. Paul is not talking about ability (the question is not whether or not women were capable of teaching), but rather God-given roles.
Second, when Adam abdicated his leadership role in the garden and Eve believed the lie of the animal she was supposed to rule over, all God-given roles involved had been turned on their heads. Why is Eve the one deceived? We don’t know—Paul does not tell us (1 Timothy 2:14). But it is significant. God calls Adam to account in the garden. Adam and Eve, who should have ruled over the animals, instead submitted to one. The order we see in the world should remind us of our need to submit to God.
Finally, 1 Timothy 2:15 is something of a summary, meant to balance out the harshness of the previous verses. Paul is saying that God’s plan for women is good; His design of womanhood is to be preserved and respected. Women should reject the false teaching of feminism and hold fast to the roles established at creation. Obedience does not save, but is evidence of God’s salvific work in your life.
IMPLICATIONS OF THE ROLES
*Does this prohibition on women being in authority include settings outside God’s word? No – the Bible recounts women in leadership, business, and government without insinuating that they were somehow out of line.
*Are women allowed to prophecy? 1 Corinthians 11 says yes.
*What should women do in the church? Largely, the same things men do – sing, serve, learn, etc.
*What if I disagree with other Christians on these issues? Establish principles on which you agree and work from there – and be charitable in your discussions.
How good God is to give us marriage, gender roles, and the church as a picture of Himself. There was a role reversal in the Garden of Eden. There was another role reversal in the Garden of Gethsemane. God Himself submitted to death because Adam and Eve failed to submit to God. He made a way for failures like us to enjoy a restored relationship with Him.
That is the Gospel!