Title & Purpose

Blow ye the trumpet in Zion, and sound an alarm in my holy mountain: let all the inhabitants of the land tremble:

for the day of the LORD cometh, for it is nigh at hand, Joel 2:1.

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Monday, 3 December 2012

The position and role of women in the Church

A great furore has arisen in recent weeks over the Church of England's decision not to permit women bishops. Much fury and annoyance has been directed towards those who have resisted this further departure from the truth. Calls have come from various quarters for pressure to be brought to bear upon the Church of England to change the decision. Democracy is a great thing until it brings about the wrong decision! Then the outcome must be changed to one more palatable to those who are in positions of influence or power.

In the light of this decision and subsequent comment it is worthwhile taking a look at what the Scriptures have to say about the position and role of women in the Church. 

The first thing that is very obvious is that the Word of God makes clear statements about the role and position that women are to occupy in the Church of Jesus Christ. There is no ambiguity about the matter. Women are not permitted to assume the teaching office nor to exercise authority over men in the Church: 
Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law; And if they will learn any thing, let them ask their husbands at home: for it is a shame for women to speak in the church, 1 Corinthians 14:33,35;
Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence, 1 Timothy 2:11,12

In the light of the clear statements in these verses some points are worthy of notice: 

I. A women's position in the Church has nothing to do with a loss of equality 
Much ado is raised about the supposed inequality of this Scriptural requirement. Every feminist, and alike supporting group, is up in arms at the injustice of it all, as they see it. Now it must be realised and stated that there is no loss of equality in this matter. Two Scriptural principles will illustrate this to be the case: 

1. The barrier to women exercising the teaching/oversight office in the Church has no bearing upon their standing in Christ. We are assured in the New Testament that in Christ Jesus there is neither male or female, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus, Galatians 3:28. This does not mean that gender distinctions do not exist. It does mean that when it comes to our standing in Christ, and our acceptance before God, men and women stand on the very same basis. We are both accepted alone through Christ's blood atonement. We have the same right to all the privileges and blessings that belong to a saved sinner, who is 'in Christ': Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ, Ephesians 1:3

2. Jesus Christ suffered no loss of equality when He accepted a subservient role to His Father in order to accomplish redemption. Jesus Christ became a 'Servant'. He yielded to the will of His Father in Heaven. He always did those things that pleased His Father. Repeatedly the title of 'Servant' is attributed to Him: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men, Philippians 2:7

Yet in taking the place of a 'Servant' the Lord Jesus Christ never lost His co-equality with His Father. Much of the opposition of the Jews stemmed from the fact that they viewed Him as making Himself equal with God: Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God, John 5:18. How right they were! Despite taking on this position no loss of equality was involved. Instead of this position being demeaning to the Lord Jesus Christ, this taking upon Himself the form of a servant, actually brought glory and honour to Him. 

Therefore for women to accept the teaching of the Scriptures and not exercise or hold the teaching/oversight office does not involve a loss of equality but rather it adds to the honour of a women that she would be prepared to yield to the Lord on this matter.

II. A women's position in the Church has to do with God's ordained order for the good of the family and the Church 
There is a very good Scriptural reason why women are not permitted to take on the teaching/oversight office within the Church of Jesus Christ. It would be against the order that God has ordained to operate within the family and within His Church. 

The family unit of husband/father, wife/mother, and children, is a divine institution. The family unit is the bedrock of any stable society. It is no surprise, therefore, that in a day of apostasy and departure from God, as presently exists, there should be a sustained and concerted attack upon the traditional family unit by those who reject the Word of God. The devil has always been in the business of attacking and destroying the family unit. As evil increases, as the Saviour's return draws nearer, the family unit will be more than ever the particular target of the devil's malice. 

For the good of the family unit, and for its proper functioning, the Lord has ordained that the man/husband is to be the head of his wife and the head of their home: 
But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God, 1 Corinthians 11:3; 
For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body, Ephesians 5:23

This position brings with it serious responsibilities and duties which are never to be taken lightly. The husband/father is never to be a tyrant but a loving husband/father. The pattern for a husband/father to follow is the Lord Jesus and His love for His bride, the Church: Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it, Ephesians 5:25

In the light of the respective positions that a husband/father and a wife/mother are to occupy in the family unit, there is an implication for the respective positions and roles of men and women in the Church of Jesus Christ, But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence, 1 Timothy 2:12. To permit women to hold the teaching/oversight office in the New Testament Church would be to overturn the God ordained order that He has instituted from the beginning of time with respect to the respective positions and roles of men and women. Therefore the New Testament requirements concerning whether a women can hold the teaching/oversight office is in deference to the commands of God respecting their role and position in the family. 

III. There is nevertheless an important work for women to do within the Church 
While a woman cannot hold the teaching/oversight office there is still much that she can do for God by way of valuable and important service to Him within the Church. 

1. Men and women are to praise God together. They are to sing together, Ephesians 5:19. Colossians 3:16. The context of these passages makes it abundantly clear that Paul is addressing both men and women. That is discernible from the other commands that he gives in these passages of Scripture. They were not only directed to men but to all believers. All believers both men and women are therefore also to sing praise to the Lord in public worship. 

2. Men and women can pray publicly together in public prayer meetings. The same terms are used by Paul with respect to men and to women when praying: 
Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven, 1 Corinthians 11:4,5

The Word of God makes no distinction between the praying and prophesying of the man compared to the woman. Paul uses the same terms. He doesn't forbid women to pray; he does, however, forbid them to pray without a headcovering. 

Acts 1:14 would suggest that both men and women prayed publicly in the New Testament Church: These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. The praying of the women in this verse is the same as the praying of the 'brethren' of the Lord Jesus. 

3. Women are said to prophesy [public speaking] in the New Testament Church. The word 'prophesy' is joined to praying in 1 Corinthians 11:4,5, quoted above. For example, the daughters of Philip prophesied: And the next day we that were of Paul’s company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy, Acts 21:8,9.

This fact would hardly be recorded in this fashion if this was something forbidden to women in the New Testament. The Old Testament also records a number of prophetesses, Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and Noadiah; there is also the example of Anna in the New Testament. 

The Old Testament prophesied that days would come when the Lord would pour out His Spirit and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions, Joel 2:28. Peter quotes this verse to explain what was happening on the day of Pentecost: And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams, Acts 2:17

Females prophesying, or speaking in public, are to be an acceptable part of the New Testament era, so says the Old Testament and Peter. 'Prophesying' is a public act. It is not something done in the heart or in the home. There are occasions when women can speak and take part in the work of the Church. They can teach Sabbath school, alongside men; be involved in outreach work, missionary work, Christian schooling. The New Testament highlights the particular ministry they have to young women growing up in the Church: The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed, Titus 2:3-5

There is therefore according to New Testament practice a place for women to sing, pray, speak and labour publicly within the Church of Jesus Christ. The only thing God forbids them to do is to hold the teaching/oversight office within the Church!


Anonymous said...

Interesting reading. Interested to know if you think that these equalities are practiced in the day-to-day life of the church? What does day-to-day service in the church look like for a woman? Do you think women are thought of and treated as being on a level with men in terms of theological thought and opinion?

Rev Brian McClung said...


I think I answer some of these questions in point 3 of the article above. According to the Scriptures a woman can sing, pray and speak in the Church. In practical terms that means that she can have an active part in the work and witness of a New Testament Church. The FPC has women sabbath school teachers, even Superintendents; missionaries; children workers and Christian School teachers.

There are many godly women whose knowledge of the Lord, His Word and His truth ranks alongside any man and even ministers. However, as they are not permitted by the Lord to hold the teaching office that is not publicly known.

Brian McClung