Pastor Brent Clark looks at what the Bible has to say about Women in Ministry and wraps up the Divisive series by looking at one of the most contentious issues in the church. This message is based on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
Women in Ministry
1 Corinthians 14:34-35
Today we come to the end of our series called Divisive: Why Christians Fight, and we saved the best for last! Today we look at the least controversial, least divisive issue there is…women in ministry.
Of course, I jest when I say this is the least divisive. It is probably the most divisive. In fact, whenever new people come to Ashworth and we sit down to meet with them and talk about the church, this is one thing that we make sure we get to in the conversation. Because if we don’t, we hear things like this email I received a couple of years ago from a man who had been visiting the church for a few weeks. He wrote:
“This is an extremely difficult message for me to write to you. I’ve been thinking about it all week. After prayerful consideration and after seeking guidance from people who my wife and I trust regarding spiritual matters, we have decided not to attend Ashworth Road anymore.
Last Sunday, for the first time in my life, I sat through a service in which the sermon was delivered by a female. While I am certain that Amy is intelligent and has a passion for ministry, I have always felt that the pastoral roles in church should be filled exclusively by men. I believe that to be a Biblical stance. I know that women are to have a role in ministry and that they can be very effective.
However, I don’t believe that women should preach from the pulpit. I understand that in today’s society, stances like this can be very unpopular and cause a lot of tension. I do not wish to cause anything of the sort. Hebrews 13:8 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. I don’t believe that the Church should be subject to the whims of society but rather stand firm for what is right.
I would never question the worth of women in ministry. It’s obvious that they are to be equally valued and they can contribute in ways that bring honor and glory to God. I guess to sum it up, women can and should be equally valued without being given identical roles.
I am sorry that we have to make this decision. I am sure that you feel like what you are doing is completely fine. Even if I could be convinced that there is justification for the practice of having a woman pastor, my wife and I find that it still provides too much of a distraction to allow us to benefit from the message.
In no way do I feel Amy’s worth should be discounted. She seems extremely bright and has a burning passion for Jesus Christ. We just feel that the Biblical model for the Church is to have men fill the role of pastor.”
So what do we do with this? If you’ve been around Ashworth for any amount of time, you know that our stance is one that affirms women in ministry. Are we anti-biblical in what we believe and do? Did we just bow to the whims of society? Do we even care about what the Bible says?
First, let me acknowledge, this is divisive. Every week we have said that these topics are secondary and should not divide, but even I have to admit there is something different about this one. I still don’t think it is primary, but I’m not sure it is secondary either.
If you are a woman and you believe God has called you to ministry, it would be impossible for you to go to a church that said your greatest value was in the nursery or maybe women’s ministry. If you are a man, and you feel as strongly as the man who wrote me the email, it would be extremely difficult for you to sit under a woman’s teaching. So maybe this topic is somewhere in between primary and secondary.
What we do have to acknowledge before we jump into this is that sometimes Christians read the same book and come to different conclusions. What we don’t want to do when that happens is begin name calling and looking down on others. There are churches up and down Ashworth Road who teach different things about this subject. And just because they have a different opinion doesn’t make them bigots, sexists, backwoods, uneducated, or rednecks.
They believe it because that’s what they believe the Bible teaches. And hopefully, they give us the same respect and don’t just label us non-Bible believing, cultural relativist, raging liberals. I hope they see that we too are just trying to read and understand what the Bible is saying. But even if they don’t, even if they call us names, we will do the right thing and love them anyway.
So where do we look in the Bible for this? Well, we have been in 1 Corinthians and Paul makes a statement about women in this letter that we have to address. Look with me at 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
“34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”
Well, I guess that settles it. The other side is right. We are wrong. Let’s pray and repent of our heresy. Hold on a moment…not so fast.
It’s Not Black and White
As you come across this passage, it would appear that this is a very black and white issue. And when you couple it with a few other verses, it seems to be a very airtight case. Verses like 1 Timothy 2:11-12:
“11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.”
Or what about the verse that describes positions within the church? Deacon and elder qualifications are listed in Timothy and Titus and say these men should be the husband of one wife. And some translations actually say that there are requirements for deacons’ wives.
Now some of you may be getting nervous, thinking to yourself, “Where is this going? Is Brent about to announce a major change at Ashworth?” Let me set your mind at ease. No, I am not. In fact, I mention these other passages because even though this looks like a very black and white issue, it isn’t.
And at Ashworth, this has been a settled issue for the church since the 1990’s. We have women that serve as Deacons and on our Leadership Team. Our understanding of Scripture on its instructions about women is settled. We may disagree with others about it, but we have confidence in our position. So what exactly are the two sides of this position?
Egalitarianism vs Complementarianism
School’s in session for a moment. Let me teach you two big words you may or may not have heard of in this debate. The first is Complementarianism. This is the position that men were created to have authority over women, at least in marriage and the church and women are made to submit to and be helpful to men. Together, their different gifts and role complement one another.
On the other side is Egalitarianism. This view believes that men and women were made in the image of God to rule together over creation in equal partnership.
Sometimes in this discussion, we like to throw bombs at one another and so let me dispel a couple right off the bat. Egalitarians like to say that the other side doesn’t value women or they think women are inferior. Nope. Complementarians affirm the essential equality of men and women, they just believe they have differing roles.
On the flip side, Complementarians like to accuse the other side of denying differences between genders. Again, this is not the case. We affirm that there are differences that complement each other.
But let’s look more closely at these verses I’ve mentioned to see what is going on.
1 Corinthians 14
The passage that got us here is 1 Corinthians 14. That passage seems pretty cut and dried. After all, that’s how we came up with the secondary title for the sermon today, “Women…Shhhh!” Don’t be mad at me. Pastor Ryan came up with this. But I thought it was hilarious and had to be used.
Here’s the challenge with this verse. By itself, it seems clear. But taken in context with everything else Paul has said, it’s not. Look back at chapter 11. Evidently, things were getting a little out of control when the church got together. There was disorder and chaos.
In chapter 11, Paul addresses this and tells them to do things orderly. And in tasing about when they come together, he says,
“…every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.”
How can a woman do this in silence? Now I don’t want to get sidetracked into the cultural elements of this passage about head coverings and such, but what Paul is saying here is that is it fully expected when people come together, women might have something to say. And that is ok. Paul clearly assumes that women are going to be speaking during worship.
Then why tell them to be quiet. Let’s take our time machine back 2,000 years. What do we know about women? Well, they weren’t well regarded. They were basically property. And most of them were not educated. When they gathered, it was customary to divide among the sexes.
So think about men on this side and women on the other. Someone is speaking, possibly a language the women didn’t fully understand, and the women would start talking among themselves, or possibly even trying to speak to their husbands across the room for clarification.
As you can imagine, this created a bit of chaos. And Paul says this isn’t the time or the place. Take care of this at home. At least that’s one possibility. And when Paul says “if you wish to learn anything,” it implies simply that they just don’t understand what is going on. And the response to this isn’t to keep the women barefoot, pregnant, and uneducated, but to teach them.
This passage also isn’t so obvious, because if it were a restriction for all women to be quiet, why does he instruct them to ask their husbands at home. Were the single women just out of luck? No. Paul wants to restore order in a chaotic situation. And he isn’t saying women be quiet because you shouldn’t speak at all. He is saying learn, in the right setting, and this isn’t the right setting.
Another reason this passage is so challenging is that also in 1 Corinthians, Paul talks about spiritual gifts. We did that message a few weeks ago. Nowhere in any passage where spiritual gifts are discussed is there a distinction of “These gifts are for men and these gifts are for women.” Never. 1 Corinthians 12:7, “Now to each one…” Not to each man or each woman. To each one.
So to wrap up this seemingly clear passage, as one commentary put it,
“This passage contains one of the most exegetically difficult issues in the entire New Testament. Although it would be easy to concentrate on Paul’s instructions for women to remain silent in the church, doing so would downplay the bigger picture of his argument. Paul wants to tell the Corinthians that communal worship should be intelligible to the believers who have gathered.”
The Other Passages Telling Women to Hush
What about some of the other passages I mentioned earlier? How do they play into this? Let me deal with some of the easier ones first. 1 Timothy 3 is where we find qualifications deacons and overseers or pastors or elders, the leaders in the church.
One argument here is that Paul writes, “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife…” Other translations say, “the husband of one wife.” The same is said about deacons.
While this sounds simple enough, does this also limit this position to only to married men? Are single guys disqualified? Why not? He clearly says they must be married. Those on the Complementarian side would say not at all. A better interpretation of this is “someone who is faithful in their relationships.”
In this same passage, in verse 11, some translations translate verse 11 when talking about deacons as, “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” The challenge here is that the word translated wives is also the same word for women. And many newer translations recognize this and change it to say, “The women.” Even those that say “wives” include a footnote indicating it could be the other way.
The interesting thing is that if you interpret it as wives, you must ask why? Pastors, elders, and overseers do not have requirements for their wives listed anywhere. Why would deacons’ wives be singled out? They wouldn’t be. The better translation is deacons and women, implying women deacons.
Probably the most problematic passage used to limit women in positions of authority is 1 Timothy 2. I quoted a portion of it earlier, but let’s look at it in the bigger context. Paul is once again giving instructions about worship and we get to the passage.
Let’s read 1 Timothy 2:8-15.
8 Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. 9 I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.
“11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love, and holiness with propriety.”
This passage is the most common one used to defend a Complementation position because it takes us back to Genesis for the basis as to why women cannot have authority. There are a few questions that can be raised in this understanding though.
First is simply this, before he says women cannot have authority, he is clearly talking about cultural issues, not issues that are applicable for all times and all places. Men lifting holy hands in prayer, women not wearing braided hair or gold jewelry. We don’t seem to have a problem not following this.
That’s because we would say that Paul was addressing a specific situation that doesn’t apply to our culture. Just on the women’s braided hair and jewelry, we need to understand that Paul is writing this to Timothy while he is in Ephesus working with the church there. In Ephesus, there was a temple to Diana, ran by women and that temple was known for its prostitution.
These prostitutes were known for their elaborate hairstyles and flashy gold jewelry. Paul is telling the people here, don’t dress like a prostitute. If you do, people will assume you are a prostitute. He’s not saying women everywhere for all time can’t braid their hair or wear jewelry. The principle of the passage is to be modest.
But why then do we change from a cultural principle of hair an jewelry and move to a timeless principle when we talk about women in authority? I’m not sure you can. But those who use this passage say it is because the position is tied to creation and the fall in Genesis.
So let’s jump back to Genesis briefly. The first argument against women in authority is creation order. Because man was created first, he is in charge. But we don’t find this supported in Genesis. In fact, if anything, we see the opposite.
God creates for lesser to greater. Heavens, earth, ground, seas, plants, trees, fish and birds, animals, and then man, Adam. And THEN Eve. If anything, in this view, woman is the greater creation or as Pastor Amy said this week, “Boom, can’t make anything better than that!”
So we can’t assume just from created order man is in charge. What about how Eve was created and described. She is described as his helper. Our 21st-century mindset may shape our idea of helper. Did you know that the same word used to describe Eve is also used to describe God as our helper? Does that make him subservient to us? Absolutely not.
The Hebrew word for helper refers to the strong helping the weak. Let me help some of the gentlemen in the room. That would make Eve the stronger one helping the weaker Adam. I don’t think that is what is being communicated in Genesis.
What is being communicated is that Man and Woman were created equally in the image of God. Not one over the other. True equal partners. She was created for companionship, not servanthood.
So where does the authority come in? After the fall. After sin enters the world. Those who use this passage talk about how it was Eve who was deceived and that’s why she must be subservient. But can I ask, what’s worse? To be deceived like Eve was or to deliberately sin as Adam did?
Paul certainly didn’t see Eve’s sin as worse. Otherwise in Romans, when he talks about the one person who sin entered the world through, he would have said Eve. But he doesn’t. He says Adam.
In Genesis, the Bible does say that God tells Eve,”Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.” Is that it? Man is head of the woman. Again, not so fast. Let’s not jump there too fast either. We must remember that this wasn’t God’s original design. This isn’t how it is supposed to be. And as followers of Jesus, we aren’t to fan into flame the results of the curse. We are to live as a new community as God intended it to be.
Do we encourage living a cursed life? No! Jesus defeated the curse. We are citizens of a new kingdom. A kingdom where equality is restored. A kingdom where Paul tells us, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all.” We did this last week, but let’s do it again, say it with me, we are all, “ONE IN CHRIST.”
New Testament Scholar and Bible professor NT Wright wrote,
“The early Christian community made is abundantly clear that women are a part of the family of God in Christ, and were not, as was the case in the pagan and Jewish worlds, regulated to second-class citizens.”
Questions can also be raised in Ephesians 5 where Paul talks about submission in marriage. Paul clearly says the husband is the head. In fact, we usually start there. But don’t skip over verse 21. Verse 21 tells us we are to be mutually submissive to one another. And the use of the word “head” in verse 23 might not mean what you think. The head is the one who leads the charge, lays down his life. It is not a reference to a dictator or authority.
I could go on and on to talk about other things we see in the Bible that challenge the Complementation view. Like how the Bible doesn’t just talk about the priesthood of male believers but instead refers to the priesthood of ALL believers. You don’t need anyone interceding between you and God except Jesus Christ. Not me. Not Pastor Ryan. Not Pastor Amy. We are all a royal priesthood.
We could talk about Acts 2 when Peter quoting the prophet Joel says,
“17 In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. 18 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
Again, no distinction between men and women on who the Spirit fills and who prophecies.
We could mention that the true first apostles where the women who were the first to see the empty tomb of Jesus and then went to tell the disciples what they had seen. N.T. Wright calls Mary Magdalene and the other women, “apostles to the apostles.”
We could talk about Phoebe who is called a deacon and carried Paul’s letters to Rome. Or Priscilla who was a fellow worker with Paul. Or Junia, a woman who is said to have shared prison time with Paul and was actually called an apostle.
Jesus allowed Mary to sit at his feet and learn even when it was very scandalous to do so. But Jesus even affirmed it saying it was better for her to do that than cook the meal.
This debate really comes down to an issue of how to interpret the Bible. Women in the first-century were illiterate and uneducated. It makes sense there would be restrictions on them as long as they were in this position. But if anything, Paul is saying educate the women. They are equally valuable and can and should serve in any capacity God calls them too.
In Christ, there is no male and female. As I said last week, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. Yes, we may disagree with others as to the full extent of what this means, but those of us who affirm women do so because of the Bible.
What can you do with this message? First, I would challenge you to rethink your views. Explore the issue. There may be some women here this morning who are sitting on the sidelines because you weren’t sure you could do what God was calling you to do. It is time to get off the sidelines. Older women, the younger women need to see great, shining examples of this.
Guys, for us it is time to cheer them on. We can’t be threatened by this. We need to encourage them, not to try to force something to happen, but to encourage everyone, especially the women around us, to be all that God has called them to be. Because if we don’t, we run the risk of not being a church that reaches our full kingdom potential or makes a difference in the world.
This is a complicated, crazy issue that if nothing else you’ve seen has two equally valid opposing sides. But this doesn’t mean we can’t be family even if we disagree.
As believers, we need to seek out unity, even in disagreement. That’s the main theme of Paul’s writing 1 Corinthians. United so that we can be the community God called us to be and so the world sees and is drawn to Jesus Christ.