There was a lot of social media stir last week about diminishing comments made by a nationally-known pastor toward the preacher and author Beth Moore (See comments and audio here). The role that women can assume in church is a live ongoing debate. At Pantano, we have women pastors and women who teach on our teaching team. How did we come to this decision and practice? We look to the Bible for our answers. But even as we do, there are honest disagreements over what the Bible permits and forbids relating to women in ministry.
The elders (I am also an elder) of Pantano spent several months back in 2016-17 studying key scriptures relating to the role of women in ministry. In humility and without a predetermined goal, we sought to both understand the biblical teaching on this matter and then how to apply to our church. I can’t report all the findings and discussions in this short blog, but here’s a summary of what we discerned. Remember that whole books have been written on this subject, so I’m doing an extremely truncated summary here.
God’s revelation in the Bible is clear that we are to affirm the value and dignity of all humans – men and women equally. And while men and women are created for unique roles, they are equal before God. We believe that God’s salvation is offered equally to both men and women (Genesis 1:27; Galatians 3:28). We believe that the Holy Spirit gifts and empowers both genders for ministry. All gifts are given to both genders by the will of the Holy Spirit. We believe God calls both men and women equally to serve, lead and minister in and through His church (Romans 12:3-8; 1 Corinthians 12).
The elders concluded that women at Pantano may minister, serve, lead and teach in any and all ministry positions, contexts and roles except one; that of elder. The reason for this conclusion was that we could not find a teaching or example in the New Testament that allowed for that type of role. However, women may be ordained, serve as pastors, perform pastoral ministry, teach in groups of mixed genders of any size or location, lead departments or programs of the church, etc. We found clear biblical evidence, examples and permission for women to lead, teach and serve in all areas but that of elder.
The crux of the discussion on the role of women focuses on just three passages of Paul. There’s a principle we used to guide us to understand these texts. To accurately understand an instruction or command of the Bible we have to look at its context and there are two key contexts to observe: 1) the cultural or situational context; and 2) the context of example and teaching of the whole Bible.
I’ll briefly look at each of the three scriptures in their cultural context asking this question for each – Were these universal commands and instructions for all churches, in all cultures in all ages or; were they addressing a specific issue in the church at that time? For example; five times we are commanded to greet one another with a holy kiss (see 1 Corinthians 16:20). We don’t do this (and other commands like hair coverings). Are we flat out disobeying the Bible? Or was this practice part of a particular culture in that time? If it was cultural, is there a truth or principle it was trying to convey that we may apply in a way that matches our culture? In my view, we are to greet each other in a warm, sincere way but not necessarily via a kiss as that is foreign in our culture. Let’s look at the three texts that some use to forbid woman teaching:
1 Corinthians 11:2-16 – The primary issues here are head covering (clearly a cultural issue), husband/wife relationships and propriety in worship. The elders of Pantano in their study learned that the idea of what “head” means is open to various interpretations. Scholars interpret “head” in the text as: 1) honor, 2) authority, or 3) source. However, this scripture is not primarily about the role of women in church ministry but it is primarily about appropriate worship and the proper relationship of a husband and wife in that culture and situation in the first century. Some refer to this scripture as proof of a timeless principle of male leadership in all areas requiring women to be in a subordinate role. Others see it as Paul addressing a situational problem. That appears to be the case in Corinth. Keep reading.
1 Corinthians 14:33-35 – The context has to do with tongues, prophecy, and order in worship. We know from 1 Corinthians 11:5 that women did, with permission and honor, prophesy and speak in worship in the Corinthian church. To assume a literal and universal ban on women speaking would contradict what was permitted in Corinth (women prophesying) as well as so many other scriptures and examples in the New Testament (see below). It is reasonable that Paul’s instruction was to correct a specific problem, not a universal ban on women speaking. The women in Corinth may have been publicly contradicting their husbands, disrupting the service with chattering, constantly asking questions that were causing an interruption, or trying to flaunt social conventions of that day. Because of the disruption, Paul commands them to have discussions at home with their husbands which would solve the problem the church was facing. It is also possible that some women were either disputing the prophecy, were interrupting with their prophecy or asking questions that were interrupting the prophecy of the males. These women may have also been trying to flaunt their newfound freedom in the church. We see this in the next passage. Keep reading.
1 Timothy 2:9-15 – The interpretations of this passage include: 1) All women (at any time, any church, any culture) cannot teach or have authority in the church. Thus she cannot have any position of leadership over nor teach men in any context. 2) The teaching and authority that women were excluded from was that of apostolic teaching and authority that eventually the New Testament was built upon, but not all teaching options. 3) The prohibition addresses a particular situation in Ephesus where women of the church were seeking authority to domineer and control. So, they are instructed to learn in quietness and submission. This also follows instructions about how to dress modestly in worship. The connection may refer to a group historically known as “new Roman women” who were aggressive, confrontational, sexually provocative, identified by their extravagant and immodest dress, and who despised marriage and childbearing while wanting to subjugate men. They were the radical feminists of the day, all of which seems to be addressed by Paul in the fuller context of 1 Timothy 2:9-15. That would explain Paul’s comment about women and childbirth in this passage.
Beyond these three texts, we find clear evidence that God used men and women in leadership and teaching in the church. Here are a few of the many examples:
- “Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy…” This prophecy was fulfilled with the birth of the church in Acts 2 (Acts 2:17-21).
- Philip had four daughters who were prophets – Acts 21:9
There are many more examples, but it is clear that women had key leadership and speaking roles in the church. If you have questions or concerns, please speak to me. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this.