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Women Leadership in the Church

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A few weeks ago, I was asked by a follower of my blog to present my “elevator speech” on the role of women in church leadership.

I’m not sure there is any other biblical issue over which I feel more conflicted. My problem is I know too many spiritual, gifted women – more gifted in many ways than the men who lead them. I also have the Bible, which I loath to interpret just to fit my pre-disposition to fairness and equality.

So, here goes!

My Position

I believe gifted, spiritual women should be encouraged to exercise all their gifts, including teaching and leadership gifts in the church at the highest levels, short of having ultimate authority in the church. 

There are thousands of books that have been written on this subject, but a blog is supposed to be short and sweet, so here are just a few of the primary biblical reasons why I hold to this position.

1. “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.” I Timothy 2:11-13

I wish like mad I could explain this passage of scripture away by the believing it was written to resolve a cultural issue or problem in the early church that no longer exists today. However, here’s why I can’t;

A. Paul goes right back to Adam and Eve, to the very beginning of human relationships, to make the case for headship. Paul’s not giving his opinion. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul is articulating the position God took at creation, or at least after the “Fall”. If Paul had said, as he says elsewhere, “It’s the practice of the church,” we’d be off the hook because church practices change. But, he didn’t.

For reasons known only to God, it was his plan from the beginning to assign spiritual headship in marriage and the church to men. And, God will hold each man responsible for his failure to be servant/leader. Shame on us if we don’t. Likewise, I believe God will honor and reward godly women who submit to male leaders, even mediocre ones.

“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” Ephesians 5:22-24

B. If we accept the argument that this teaching is cultural and; therefore, changeable what else that Paul wrote to Timothy, or in any of his other letters, is no longer binding on us? Are his instructions to the Church at Corinth regarding church discipline, lawsuits, communion, marriage, singleness or the spiritual gifts, still binding? If so, then why exclude this teaching on women? And who chooses which ones are or aren’t cultural? I wouldn’t know how to do that, nor would I risk doing that, except where it’s obvious in some of his greetings or instructions specifically to Timothy, personally.

2. All references to elders in scripture, the ultimate authority in each church, are to men. A straight-forward reading of Titus 1:5-9 or I Timothy 3:1-7 by a brand-new Christian who had no knowledge of the headship debate would never conclude that Paul was referring to females or leaving that interpretation open to debate. This teaching is hard to accept, particularly in our day, but I don’t think it’s difficult to understand.

Ron Rhodes, in his excellent book, 5-Minute Apologetics for Today, gives these principles for interpreting the Bible.

1. When the plain sense makes good sense, seek no other source. A literal hermeneutic is best.

2. Interpret the difficult verses in light of the clearer verses.

While there are many anecdotal references to gifted women serving with Jesus and in the early church, Ron’s principle to interpret difficult verses in light of clear verses, seems to hold here. Both the Timothy passages and Ephesians are clear and unambiguous and are given as commands.

What does this mean in practical terms?

1. I believe the highest authority in the local church should be a plurality of male leaders (presumably the elders, deacons or trustees in some churches).

2. I encourage the inclusion of female teachers and leaders at every level in the church, except elders (or whatever group is the highest authority in a given church).

3. When I’ve assisted planting new churches, I have urged the new elders to invite godly women, including their own wives, to attend elder’s meetings and to eagerly seek out their ideas and opinions. My wife, Susan, has a sixth sense of discernment, I don’t have for reading people. Women are far better at discerning certain people or issues than men and we’d be foolish not to listen to their counsel and avail ourselves of their wisdom.

I hope you’re hearing my respect for godly women and desire to push the inclusion envelope in any way I can, and still be true to the Bible. In my opinion, this isn’t a spiritual qualification issue. If it was, women are more qualified in many ways than men. If I’m wrong, then I’ll have to answer to God for that, but for now, this is what I believe the Bible teaches. My conscience is clear.

Question: I’d enjoy reading your thoughts and comments on this very difficult to understand teaching.

Following Jesus in Real Life

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