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The Place and Role of Women in the Church
“Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not
permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but
to be in silence.”
1 Timothy 2:11-12
“For this reason, the woman ought to have a symbol of authority
on her head, because of the angels. Nevertheless, neither is man
independent of woman, nor woman independent of man, in the
Lord. For a woman came from man, even so man also comes
through woman, but all things are from God.”
1 Corinthians 11:10-12
“Obey those who rule over you and be submissive, for they watch
out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so
with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”
No one serves, in any capacity in the world or in the Church for that matter, in isolation and free from authority structures. Human nature resents being told what to do because the very essence of sin is rooted in rebellion. This root is in all of us and we have to overcome it. There are then authority structures in our world that are the prerogative of men and others that are of women. For instance, women generally serve in nursing roles more than men do and they are exceptionally good at it. One does find male nurses within this field of activity, but they are generally required to submit to the authority of their female overseers.
The truth is, there are some roles in life where men have authority over women and others where women have authority over men because of the manner in which God constitutionally created them. Men generally serve in combatant roles because they are physically stronger than women. It was young men who stormed the beaches of Normandy on the 6th June 1944 and not young girls!
The Christian scriptures are clear about the fact that while men and women differ in their constitutional make up, they are equal in dignity and status before God their Creator. The one is not in anyway inferior to the other and shouldn’t be treated that way. Indeed, Paul affirms that in the believing community there is, “…neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28).” This means there should be no prejudice held when engaging men and women. They are equal in every way and should be afforded this dignity.
Having said this, it is true that the manner in which God made a woman means that she is ideally fitted to make up the deficiencies of her husband. She is made to help him be the man that God wants him to be and so she submits her wisdom, intellect, intuition and opinion to him. He needs help and God calls him to lead with her help (Genesis 2:18). Submission in the Bible is not one-way traffic. Meaning, that it is not only a man telling a woman what to do but also as a woman giving a man advice what to do in a spirit of gentleness (1 Peter 3:4-5). Men who turn this on its head and become authoritarian and abusive to their wives, and or to women in the Church, will not get their prayers answered (1 Peter 3:7). Men and women are “heirs together of the grace of life.” Men then have been equipped by God to lead and this is precisely why Jesus chose twelve men to be His Apostles. In fact, Jesus honored women, defended them, helped them and had them in His inner circle because He valued their spiritual intuition and appreciated their help and generosity, making possible His mission together with the disciples (Luke 8:2-3).
All this being true we should note the following:
1. That God has uniquely equipped men to assume teaching and leadership roles in the Church. However, the point of Paul’s statements in 1 Timothy is that women can teach and lead as long as they do so with male leadership recognition and support and do not usurp this authority structure. Just as a male nurse in a hospital ward must discharge all his duties in submission to the female leadership team. The male nurse is not allowed to do his own thing!
2. The Bible affirms and demonstrates that in Israel’s long journey there were always unique and strong female leaders who did great things for God; but always under authority. Deborah, Rahab, Miriam, Ruth, Esther and Mary easily come to mind in this respect.
3. The New Testament church was greatly blessed by male and female preaching teams such as Priscilla and Aquila (Romans 16:3-4). It is no doubt worth noting here that Priscilla is mentioned before her husband Aquila. Was she the dominant ministry gift? In fact, Paul refers to a woman called Junia, who together with her husband Andronicus, he calls “of note among the apostles” (Romans 16:7). (See footnote) Then there are the four daughters of Philip who were recognized as prophets (Acts 21:8-9). This of course means that they were part of the “gift ministries” of the ascended Christ recorded in Ephesians four verses eleven and twelve. Paul also writes about Euodia and Syntyche, two women who served with him in the preaching of the Gospel (Philippians4:2-3).Mary, the mother of Jesus, was continually in the company of the early leaders of the Church and the non-canonical writings of the early Church confirm that she played a very active role in the development and growth of the Church (Acts 1:14). To suggest then that women cannot share in the gift ministries of the Church and should not be preaching in our pulpits is just wrong and a contradiction of scripture.
It is certainly true that when women assert themselves without due recognition of the male authorities in the Church, they are disruptive, can be led into deception and more dangerous still, into a Jezebel spirit; all of which I have witnessed in my long years of Christian ministry (Revelation 2:20). But equally I have encountered deceived men in leadership who became authoritarian and dominating and they too brought a spirit of deception into the body of Christ (Titus 3:9-11). Diotrephes written about in 3 John was just such an individual as he loved the place of pre-eminence (3 John 9). The truth is, the abuse of God-given roles is rampant in the Church today and it all comes down to a problem with authority structures. According to Paul, Eve moved out of her covering of authority and instead of deferring to Adam she gave into the deception of the Devil. The original language of 1 Timothy 2:14 demonstrates that while Eve was deceived Adam sinned willfully because he knew better and consequently God held him accountable for the original sin and not Eve. Scripture then states, “As in Adam all die…” and not, “As in Eve all die” … (1 Corinthians 15:22).
4. In Paul’s day there were also cultural problems in that throughout the Roman Empire women who went around uncovered were actually prostitutes looking for business. Women in the Church, feeling the liberty that Christian teaching gave them, began to discard head coverings thus potentially bringing the church into conflict with the community. Paul writes to correct this as it would cause outsiders to stumble and bring the Church into disrepute. He urgently needs to rectify this matter and thus tells them that, though they may disagree, this is the “custom” that all the churches embrace (1 Corinthians 11:16). In fact, to reinforce this “custom” he notes that even angels recognize the divine sphere in which they live and appropriately respond to it by covering themselves (1 Corinthians 11:10). We sometimes have to submit to the culture to win it for Christ. Today head coverings are no longer an issue; thank God!
Also, the early Church adopted a Synagogue type of structure which meant that men and women were separated in the services. Consequently, the women would sometimes disrupt the meetings by calling out to their husbands for theological clarification. Paul brought this practice to an end (1 Corinthians 14:34-35) and so it is also important to point out that the command, given by Paul in 1 Timothy 2:11-12, that women should be silent in the Church, is in fact not the correct interpretation of the text. The original language is more correctly translated as “settle down” and not, “be silent”. That is, that women should not be disruptive in the meetings and settle down and, if we doubt it, then we should take note of the fact that the same word that is translated as “silent” in 1 Timothy 2:11-12 is used in 2 Thessalonians 3:12 where it is translated as “work in quietness” or “settle down.” Paul’s real concern was that all things in the gatherings of the local churches should be done “decently and in order” (1Corinthians 14:40).
5. It is thus worth noting that there have been and are great women ministries in the Church of Jesus. I have known and worked with such women and have been greatly enriched by their powerful pulpit and leadership ministries. Who can doubt that Corrie ten Boom was a huge blessing to the people of God and to the Jewish people and what of Kathryn Kuhlman, Ruth Ward Heflin, a powerful healing evangelist, Christine Darg, Gwen Shaw, Amy Carmichael, an extraordinary missionary to China, Joni Eareckson Tada who though disabled led thousands of people to Jesus, Christine Caine who rescued thousands of people from human trafficking, Francis Willard, Henrietta Mears, a great preacher in her own right who mentored great men like Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ and of course Aimee Semple McPherson the founder of the Four Square Church of God and who led hundreds of thousands of people to Jesus. We could go on and on, the list is never ending.
It is worth noting here that when I studied theology, at a well-respected Reformed Theological establishment, half the student population were women. The majority of these became missionaries to Africa, Asia, the Middle East and the Indian Ocean Islands. The term missionary is a nice way to disguise the fact that they were actually Apostles going out into the world because the term missionaries means “those sent out”; the exact same definition of the term Apostle!
No paper like this would be complete without referring to the fact that scripture calls upon women to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:21-33). We have already noted what this means but it is certainly worth pointing out that God calls men to lay down their lives for their wives as Christ did for the church. This means that they must be given to extreme sacrifice for their wives and it is love like this that will encourage women to willingly and happily submit to their husbands.
All in all, then, Women can teach, preach and even become Apostles in the Church of Jesus but they do have to minister in a sphere that is mainly occupied by men. Hence, they must discharge their remarkable ministry gifts in recognition of this God-given authority structure. Most important of all is that male leadership teams should not be authoritarian, corrective and restrictive but rather encouraging, edifying and upbuilding. This is why God gives us positions of authority, to build up and edify (2 Corinthians 10:8). We rob the Church of a great blessing if we close our pulpits to godly women who have been called of God and anointed to preach.
The peace of Jesus be with you!
Dr. Peter Watt-The General Chairman of the Assemblies of God of Southern Africa
Dr. David Elms-Founding Minister Emeritus of Kingsway Christian Fellowship, Liverpool England
Rev. Graham Jefferson- Minister Emeritus of Word of Life Baptist Church, Durrington England
Note; with reference to Romans 16:7:
Early church writers and scholars translated one of the persons referred to here by Paul as Junia, which is absolutely correct since the ending of the name is in the female designation. For 1900 years every translation that came out did the same but in the 20th Century, translators, all of which were mainly male, unilaterally and without textual basis, changed the name to a masculine ending meaning that it became Junias. This was wrong, in fact entirely wrong, and it was only done because they would not accept that a woman could be an Apostle. In other words, they arrogantly inserted their prejudice into the inspired text! In recent years this unjustified edit has been corrected in keeping with the original text, which is beyond dispute, and so Junia, the female “Apostle of note”, took her rightful place again in scripture.