Women Leading and Preaching

In the process of considering a female candidate for our Children's Pastor position, there may be some people wondering if we have changed our position regarding female pastors (to many, we've never had one before) and how we reconcile this with Scripture. These are two very important questions that need to be addressed.

The first question is relatively straight forward - we have not changed our position because we have always been open to having female pastors. In fact, we had a female worship pastor before Pastor Anton. The second question is much more involved and requires a careful study of the relevant Scriptures. Recently I wrote a position paper (text included below) that provides the Scriptural basis for women in leadership and preaching. In writing this paper, I recognize that there are faithful Christians who hold to the view that the pastorate is reserved for men only. While I disagree with them, I see this issue as an important, yet secondary issue and hope that we can maintain the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.

Women Leading and Preaching
The purpose of this paper is to provide a biblical perspective for women preaching and teaching in the general assembly of the church and also holding leadership positions. Since this topic inherently impacts what women can and cannot do in the church, a biblical perspective must include doing our best to discern God’s will in a thoughtful, prayerful, and compassionate manner. Some churches hold the view that there are no restrictions and women can preach, be senior pastors, elders, and hold any position within the church. Other churches restrict the preaching/teaching ministry, pastorate, and eldership to men. Usually, these churches allow women to teach other women and children but not men. A third position allows women to preach and/or teach men but the office of elder is reserved for men. Adherents to all of these positions believe they are being faithful to the Scriptures even though they come to very different conclusions.
For the purpose of this paper, I will refer to the position that there are no restrictions on the roles a woman can play in the church as ‘Open’. The position that disallows women from preaching and/or teaching men or holding the office of elder are referred to as ‘Closed’ and the third position that permits a woman to preach but sees the office of overseer/elder reserved for men, as ‘Limited’. There is no intent to associate these terms with any pejorative meaning.
There are several passages that must be considered and the primary one that seems to directly address this issue is found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy.
1 Timothy 2:11-15
11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. 15 Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.
The Closed position points out that Paul could not be any clearer. He has laid down an authoritative directive that is normative for all churches no matter the time or place - women are not allowed to teach or hold authority over men.  Open proponents argue that this directive was time bound because of particular issues that the church in Ephesus was facing. They point out that there are a number of directives that Paul gives in the immediate context that we recognize as not being timeless but particular to that congregation.
For example, 1 Timothy 2:8-10 says,
8 I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; 9 likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.
Open proponents argue that men don’t pray with holy hands lifted up in most congregations. We don’t monitor women’s hair styles, jewelry, or fashion either. Why? Because we clearly recognize that this was not Paul’s intent to mandate a particular prayer posture or ban women from wearing a gold wedding ring. It seems most logical that there was an issue of men quarreling with one another in anger and Paul was encouraging them instead to come before the Lord with holy hands (i.e. pure hearts). Likewise, it’s most reasonable to deduce that many of the women were seeking to draw attention to themselves by their outer appearance instead of focusing on godliness and good works, the things that the Lord values. Because the prohibition against women teaching or holding authority over a man is in the immediate context of other issues particular to that church, we should not take it as being a directive for all times and all places. To do so would be inconsistent at best and hypocritical at worst. If Christians insist that women can’t teach or hold authority over men then they should also insist that men pray with lifted hands and women never braid their hair or wear costly clothing or jewelry.
The Closed position counters with the argument that Paul actually states the reason for his prohibition against women teaching or holding authority over men – because of the order of creation (man was created first) and the order of the fall (Eve was deceived and became a transgressor). His reasoning has nothing to do with a time-bound issue facing this particular church but instead is rooted in the unchanging fact of creation and the fall. For the Closed position, this settles the issue.
The Limited position recognizes the presence of contextual expressions - holy hands are a time-bound expression of a timeless principle (pure hearts). The obsession with one’s outer appearance (braided hair, costly clothes, and expensive jewelry) are a time-bound antithesis of the timeless principles of modesty and self-control (1 Timothy 2:9). But the Limited position also acknowledges that Paul’s reasoning based on creation order and the fall strongly suggests that the injunction against women teaching or holding authority over men is timeless. The question that must be asked and answered is ‘what is the Apostle actually prohibiting’?

Teaching or Holding Authority
One of the qualifications of an overseer/elder is that they are able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). This is not a reference to possessing the spiritual gift of teaching but emphasizes their understanding of sound doctrine. They must be strong in the fundamentals of the faith so they can distinguish between sound and false teaching (1 Timothy 1:3; 4:1-6, 11, 13, 16; 6:2-5). It falls on the shoulders of the overseers/elders to ensure that the church remains doctrinally sound. But it’s clear that some overseers/elders focus on the teaching ministry while others don’t teach but focus just on the ruling ministry (1 Timothy 5:18). When Paul prohibits women from teaching or holding authority over a man he has in view those who oversee through authoritative teaching and those who oversee through exercising authority. This prohibits women from serving as an overseer who teaches the authoritative doctrine of the church nor as one who rules over the church but does not teach. Therefore, the Limited position understands that Paul is prohibiting women from serving as overseers/elders but he is not prohibiting women from ever teaching men yet their teaching must come under and in alignment with the doctrine that the male overseers/elders are entrusted to uphold. Additionally, another evidence that Paul had the office of overseer/elder in mind in his prohibition is that he provides the qualifications of an overseer/elder in the verses immediately following (1 Timothy 3:1-7).  

The Limited position is further reinforced when we consider 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 and 14:29-35. In interpreting these passages it’s important to recognize and distinguish between the timeless principles and the time-bound expressions.
1 Corinthians 14:29-35
29 Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others weigh what is said. 30 If a revelation is made to another sitting there, let the first be silent. 31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, 34 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. 35 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.

In this passage the relevant points for our consideration is that Paul says that women should keep silent in the churches. They are not permitted to speak but should be in submission. It is shameful for a woman to speak in church. A thin reading of this passage would conclude that Paul is prohibiting women from talking in the assembled gathering of the church and if Paul is prohibiting women from even speaking in the church, they could never be teachers. However, the context of the passage is that Paul is addressing the issue of disorder in the assembly (v. 33). People were speaking out of turn, talking over one another. Adding to this chaos were many women who presumably were being very loud as they asked questions in a manner that was disruptive and inappropriate. Once again, we see the timeless principles of submission (v. 34) and orderliness (v. 33) and the contextual, time-bound directive of keeping silent when the church is gathered in corporate worship. The prohibition against speaking and remaining silent would apply to those women who were being disruptive and contributing to the chaos. This limited scope is clearly seen when we consider 1 Corinthians 11:1-16 where Paul clearly allows women to pray and prophesy.
1 Corinthians 11:1-16 (NIV 2011)
1 Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. 2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.  

While there are several issues and questions that emerge from this passage, the main thrust affirms the timeless principle of submission and headship and the time-bound expression of head coverings. But also notice that women are allowed to pray and prophesy in the church (v.5)! There is no indication that women were allowed to prophesy only in the presence of other women and children. To prophesy is to bring a word from the Lord. 1 Corinthians 14:31 says,
31 For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 
Notice that it says, all may learn, and all be encouraged. That means that women were giving a word from the Lord and men were being taught! When someone is learning there must be teaching!

Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos
Apollos was a Jew who was a strong biblical teacher who taught accurately the things concerning Jesus. But he was only familiar with John the Baptist’s baptism. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him teach they took him aside and explained (taught) to him the way of God more accurately (Acts 18:24-26). Priscilla, a woman, taught Apollos without any sense of reprimand or anything in the text that would indicate that she was overstepping her bounds.
Each of the passages we’ve considered affirms the timeless principle of woman’s submission to man but it does not lay out a timeless prohibition against women teaching men. In fact, it affirms that women can teach men while at the same time being submissive. At this point it’s important to articulate what is meant by a woman's submission to man. This does not mean that every woman in the church must be submissive to every man in the church. Wives are clearly called to be submissive to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1-2). But beyond this, women in general express submission in the church when they come under the elders, who are men (1 Timothy 3:1-7). Those women who teach/preach still must be submissive to the elders and their teaching must be in alignment with the elder’s teaching and doctrine. This is how Cornerstone seeks to hold to the biblical teaching that allows women to teach while still being submissive in the church. It’s also important to remember that a woman’s submission to man applies to the marriage relationship and the church (Ephesians 5:22-33; 1 Corinthians 11:2-16), the two institutions that the Lord established to reflect His image. There is no prohibition against women holding the top positions in government, business, or any other organization.
Can Women be Pastors?
If women can teach/preach, can they serve as elders or pastors in a church? To answer this question, we need to look at what the Scriptures say about elders and pastors.
In Scripture, there are three terms associated with church leadership – Presbyteros (Elder), Episkopous (Overseer/Bishop), and Poimenas (Shepherd/Pastor). There appears to be some interchangeability between these terms. For example,

 Acts 20:17-28
17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders [presbyterous] of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [episkopous], to care for [poimenein-shepherd] the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
1 Peter 5:1-3
So I exhort the elders [presbyterous] among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd [poimanate] the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight [episkopountes], not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 

Each of these terms provide a nuance of meaning that provides us with a well-rounded picture of what church leadership entails. The term elder speaks to the character, wisdom, and stature of the person. The term overseer emphasizes the office and overall leadership role. Shepherd carries the idea of leading through care, protection, and feeding. Those who hold the office of overseer should be godly men of outstanding character who lead the church with tender care. This, however, does not necessitate that every man of outstanding character should hold the office nor every person who shepherds with tender care, nor every person who teaches/preaches.

There is also a measure of fluidity and liberty when Scripture uses  these terms. Paul appointed elders in churches during his missionary journeys (Acts 14:23), set down qualifications for overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-7) and mixed the terms elders and overseers (Titus 1:1-7). Peter referred to God as the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). When Paul listed the leaders given as a gift to the church in Ephesians 4:11-12, he listed apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds/teachers. The use of the term shepherd/teacher would certainly have encompassed the office (overseer) and stature (elder) of those who shepherd the church.

Another example of the fluidity and liberty in which the Scripture uses terms can be seen in the word disciple. It can be used as a general term that refers to all followers of Christ (Matthew 28:19) or specifically to the original twelve disciples (Matthew 10:1). Sometimes the original twelve disciples are simply called the twelve (Matthew 26:20; Acts 6:2; 1 Corinthians 15:5). The original twelve disciples are also referred to as apostles (Matthew 10:2), yet there were more apostles than just the twelve, namely Paul (Galatians 1:1), Barnabas (Acts 14:4), and James (Galatians 1:19). In Revelation 21:14, the heavenly Jerusalem has twelve foundations named after the twelve apostles of the Lamb. This means that there is a subset of apostles that are distinguished from the larger group of apostles.
Since the Scriptures themselves use these terms with liberty, at Cornerstone, we’ve chosen to use the term elder to refer to the office that oversees the church while making sure that those who occupy the office exhibit character, wisdom, and stature, as they lead, feed, care for, and protect the flock. We use the title of pastor to emphasize the responsibility to lead, feed, care for, and protect the flock while decoupling it from the office that has overall oversight over the church. Therefore, at Cornerstone, we can have women minister with the title of pastor since they would still come under and be submissive to the male eldership of the church.
Is the Office of Elder/Overseer Reserved for Men?
To address this question, we again must look at the relevant Scriptures. In addition to what has already been addressed from looking at 1 Timothy 2:11-15 above, 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 provide the qualifications of an elder/overseer. Many translations translate the qualification that an elder must be the husband of one wife. This could be a statement against polygamy. While polygamy would certainly rule out a person to serve as an elder, it’s unlikely that this is what Paul intended to prohibit. The situation of a widower and re-marriage would also seem to be outside of Paul’s intended scope since 1 Corinthians 7:8-9, 39 allows for a surviving spouse to remarry. Divorce and remarriage might possibly be in view but there aren’t any exceptions for those who have been in a permissible divorce (abandonment – 1 Corinthians 7:15 or adultery – Matthew 19:9). In the Greek, the word translated wife and husband can also be translated as woman and man. Literally, this translates as a ‘one-woman man’. Therefore, it’s likely it emphasizes that the man should be a ‘one-woman kind of man’. That is, he isn’t someone who is flirtatious or a womanizer, but is marked by faithfulness. This interpretation is consistent with the other qualifications because most of them have to do with character qualities which would be paramount for an elder to possess. Since there is no reciprocating directive that a woman elder/overseer should be a ‘one-man kind of woman’ or even a wife of one husband, it suggests that Paul had men in mind when he laid out the qualifications for elders/overseers. Those who hold to the Closed position take this to be the Lord’s intent.
Those who hold the Open position point out that Romans 16:1-2 refers to Phoebe, a woman, as a diakonon (deaconess/servant). [The Closed position holds that Phoebe was simply being recognized as a servant in the church, not necessarily a person who held the office of a deacon.]
Romans 16:1-2
1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, 2 that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well.

The high esteem that Paul commands the Romans to give to Phoebe strongly suggests that she was much more than just someone who served. She was a woman who was worthy of support, ostensibly because the nature of her service was critical in the mission of the gospel. Paul actually calls her a patron of many. This word carries the idea of protector and guardian. Furthermore, in the case of deacons, 1 Timothy 3:11 can legitimately be translated “women, likewise, must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” instead of “wives, likewise…”. If ‘women’ is the correct way to interpret this passage then again, it would be addressing the character qualities of a deaconesses and not the qualities of the wife of a deacon. It would also be strange that Paul would mention the character required of a deacon’s wife but have no such character qualifications of an elder/overseer’s wife. Therefore, if Phoebe was indeed a woman who occupied the office of deaconess, then the ‘one-woman man’ requirement (1 Timothy 3:12) should not be interpreted as an indirect way of limiting the role of deacon to just men. And if this is the case, then in the case of elders, it should also not be interpreted as limiting the role of elder to just men.  

The Limited position holds that the office of deacon can be held by women because of 1 Timothy 3:11 and Romans 16:1-2. It does not view the ‘one-woman man’ qualification as being a decisive, positive statement that limits the office of deacon to men only. However, we hold that the office of elder is limited to men on other grounds - that women are specifically allowed to serve as deaconesses (1 Timothy 3:11 and Romans 16:1-2) while there is no similar allowance for women to serve as elders/overseers; and women are not allowed to be in authority over men in the church and by reserving the office of elder to men, this provides a tangible expression of submission.

The Limited position also sees Paul’s letters in the context of a male dominant society. The norm was that positions of authority were assumed to be held by men. It’s reasonable to surmise that this was Paul’s frame of mind and that he wrote the qualifications for the office of elder/overseer with men in mind. The qualifications of being a one-woman man or managing his own household well assumed his readers would readily accept these as reasonable qualifications for the men serving as an elder/overseer. They wouldn’t have thought that Paul commanded these things as a way of limiting this office to men only, because it was already normative. The fact that Paul included these same qualifications for deacons would have also been readily accepted for the same reasons. However, stating the qualifications for deaconesses probably would have been surprising and caused a shift in their paradigm, yet consistent with how Jesus honored women throughout His ministry.
The Open position will often cite Galatians 3:26-28 as a key text that does away with gender roles. This verse says,

Galatians 3:26-28
26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
For those who hold to the Open position, this verse trumps all other passages that mention distinctions between genders. But the Closed and Limited position take into account the context of this passage and point out that Paul’s point is that we are all saved by grace through faith. No one can earn their salvation by following the law and no one can merit salvation based on their ethnicity or anything else other than faith in Christ. Jews, Greeks (Gentiles), slaves, the free, males, and females all have the opportunity to receive salvation by faith. In that sense there is no distinction between men and women. But interpreting this passage as doing away with all gender distinctions would be reading into the text far more than Paul or the Lord intended.

Bearing God’s Image
When God created human beings He made us in His image.

Genesis 1:27
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.

Males and females are created in the image of God. Not only do we have an intellect, emotions, and a will, we also have the capacity to relate to others. When wives are submissive to their husbands and women come under the godly shepherding of male elders, we bear the image of God relationally. Even though God the Son (and God the Holy Spirit) are equal with the Heavenly Father in essence, they are also submissive to Him. This concept of equality in essence, submissive in relationship, reflects the way the Trinity relates to one another and brings God glory.

When women willingly and joyfully come under godly elders in the church family, they are identifying with the Lord Jesus’ own act of humility as expressed in Philippians 2:5-8:

Philippians 2:5-8
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Correspondingly, godly elders should respond the way God the Father responded to Christ’s humility:

Philippians 2:9-11
9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

God exalts, that is, He lifts up the One who humbled Himself. The heart of a godly elder is never to suppress women but to lift them up and give them every opportunity to use their gifts to impact God’s kingdom. As God the Father exalted God the Son, this very act brought glory to the Father. It is a glorious thing when godly elders exercise their authority by lifting up others, especially women, to places of honor and meaningful service to the Lord.

Women play a vital role in helping the church to accomplish its mission. The timeless principle of submission can be lived out best when women willingly and joyfully come under the godly leadership of male elders/overseers. Correspondingly, The elders/overseers should do all they can to lift up women, providing opportunities to pastor, preach, lead, and utilize their spiritual gifts so that the church is built up to maturity.

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