The Role of Women in Corporate Worship and Church Leadership

A controversial topic in many churches today is the presence of female pastors, preachers, and deacons, and female leadership in corporate worship.

As is typical of contemporary doctrinal discussions, this topic is raised largely as the result of recent cultural changes, though its implications go back to the very natures of God and of man. The topic is therefore an extremely important one, and even more so when we consider that the way we interpret the Bible on this topic sets a precedent for future hermeneutics.

It is my position that only men are authorized by the scriptures to serve in leadership positions in the lord’s church, including leadership during corporate worship, and that a hermeneutic that reaches any other conclusion is dangerous and flawed.

Galatians 3:28 is referenced repeatedly and proudly among those arguing that women should have the right to lead prayers, singing, and deliver sermons to our congregations. The verse states “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NASB). This verse is understood by some to mean that distinctions and roles based on gender are no longer binding on those who are in Christ.

But if this verse means that wives are not longer under the authority of their husbands as dictated in Gen. 3:16, why do we find Paul in Eph. 6:22 exhorting: “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord” and in verse 24: “But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.” It is impossible to suggest that Gal. 3:28 abolishes divinely decreed gender roles without implying that the scriptures, and even the writings of Paul himself, are contradictory, thus undermining the inerrancy of scripture.

Those who would welcome female church leadership also make much of Rom. 16:1 in which Paul uses the Greek word “diakonon” in reference to Phoebe. This verse is cited as proof that woman “deaconesses” are endorsed in scripture to hold public offices in the church. To derive this teaching from Rom 16:1 is irresponsible because the noun diakonos is used frequently throughout scripture to refer to anyone who is a servant in a general sense. In Mark 10:43 Jesus tells his apostles that “whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your diakonos.” Was Christ teaching that if a man wants to become great, he must hold the office of deacon in the Lord’s church? It is obvious from the context that in this instance and in many others in scripture, the term diakonos is being used simply to denote one who serves in any capacity.

In the same passage Prisca and her husband Aquila are greeted by Paul as his “fellow workers,” once again indicating that women can and do serve in various capacities in the Lord’s church, but giving no indication whatsoever that they may lead corporate worship or hold public church office.

A careful reading of 1 Timothy 2 gives us a clear answer to this discussion. In verse 8, Paul requests for “men in every place to pray.” The noun used here is not the general term “anthropos,” which may refer to mankind generically rather than males specifically. Rather the term “andros” is used, which refers distinctively to a male human being or a man. This verse is followed by a series of verses on the conduct of women. Verses 11-12 state clearly: “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.”

I want to clearly establish two foundational truths about this declaration: one, that he is speaking in regards to how we conduct ourselves when gathered together as the Lord’s body, and two, that the following verses make it perfectly clear that Paul’s declaration results from timeless theological reasons as opposed to temporary cultural views.

From the context of this passage we can clearly see that Paul is speaking in regards to the worship and activity of the church. He goes on in chapter 3 to give the qualifications for elders and deacons (both of which are obviously male specific in their terminology,) and the explanation in verse 15 that “I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” This context makes it clear that Paul’s orders for women to receive instruction with submissiveness, and not to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet, apply specifically in the church and its activities.

Many will claim that while Paul may have been prohibiting women from leading prayers or preaching in the first century, he was doing so for cultural reasons that are no longer applicable today. The context of the passage is exceptionally helpful in disproving that notion. Paul gives very specific reasons for his prohibitions in verses 13-15: “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.  But women will be preserved through the bearing of children if they continue in faith and love and sanctity with self-restraint.”

Paul makes it clear that these roles he is describing are the results of God’s arrangement in Gen. 3:16 that a man should have authority over a woman, an arrangement that he apparently believes is still in effect at the time he is writing. This shows us that Paul did not believe that Christ’s death abolished gender roles, and that these roles are the theological, rather than cultural reasons for his stance. This view is clearly supported by the verses from Eph. 6 mentioned earlier, as they attribute the theological importance of modeling Christ and his church to the roles of men and women in marriage. It is impossible to properly understand Paul’s teaching and to claim that it is culturally motivated.

A hermeneutic that encounters any passage that is culturally unpopular as though it were outdated and can safely be revised is dangerous indeed. Various teachings of God’s word have been unpopular throughout history, but the theological truths that undergird those teachings cannot be revised without revising our very understandings of God and man, and to do so is simply to contradict scripture.

As a final word to those who are deeply offended by the idea of the prohibition of females from corporate church leadership, it should be stated that a view of a church in which only a few activities such as “leading songs, preaching, and being a pastor” are considered meaningful jobs to do is a sad view of the church indeed. There is SO much for women to do in the church, as hundreds of thousands of them demonstrate every week.

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